Right to Play takes hockey north

Group, province offer program for community plagued by teen suicides

Representatives from Right to Play, provincial government and Moose Cree First Nation appear at Hockey Hall of Fame on Jan. 21, 2010.  TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR

Representatives from Right to Play, provincial government and Moose Cree First Nation appear at Hockey Hall of Fame on Jan. 21, 2010. TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR

 

By Tanya Talaga
Toronto Star

A sports organization known for its mission to build self-esteem in children from impoverished and war-torn nations is coming to a northern Ontario aboriginal community struggling with a teen suicide crisis.

Right to Play, an international humanitarian body operating in 23 countries, is bringing hockey to the Moose Cree First Nation, adjacent to the town of Moosonee, on the James Bay coast.

This is the first time Right to Play, which has sports programs in countries such as Lebanon and Burundi, has come to Canada. Instructors will use hockey to teach kids life and leadership skills.

If successful, the joint Ontario government and Right to Play program will spread to reserves across the north.

Using sports to boost the self-confidence of First Nations teens was the brain-child of hockey dad Brad Duguid, Ontario’s former aboriginal affairs minister. Last Monday, Duguid was promoted to minister of infrastructure and energy.

“These young people deserve more than they are getting right now,” Duguid said at a news conference Thursday at the Hockey Hall of Fame. “This is the fastest-growing young population in our province and our country.”

Duguid said he realizes hockey will not solve all the social ills plaguing First Nations teens. Improving the education system and job creation in the north will take time, he said. “As the time passes, we are just losing far too many of these young, vibrant people,” he said. “We have to do something.”

The program is looking for corporate and private donors to help cover the $1.6 million cost for hockey equipment, infrastructure and maintenance. The Ontario government is committing funds, but has not revealed how much.

A Star investigation last month revealed there were 13 teen suicides in the isolated communities in the James Bay area in 2009. All the teens died by hanging. Another 80 tried to take their own lives. Just Wednesday, the provincial government announced it will free up $470,000 in emergency funds to send four suicide prevention workers to help. Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy said First Nations teens are taking their lives at a frightening rate.

“What I see here today gives me great encouragement,” Beardy said of the hockey plan.

“It is something tangible, something my young people can relate to.”

email

One Comment

  1. Sean Holmes says:

    This initiative is such an identified need in the James Bay area and with it an excellent opportunity to create something tangible. The P.L.A.Y. initiative is a real opportunity to begin the journey to finding answers in First Nations youth. It was an honour to be a part of this conference yesterday.