All it takes is one phone call. Earlier this month, the annual Little Native Hockey League took place in Mississauga. The league, which is for First Nation youth, consists of 209 teams and approximately 3,000 players. One team in particular caught the attention of the Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) at the University of Toronto: Sarnia’s Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen.
The Hitmen are a hockey team based out of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ontario. As a youth hockey team, they don’t receive a lot of funding. One of their coaching staff made a call for support, prompting the ISSU to take action. One of the union’s coordinators, Joshua Bowman, decided to lend a helping hand.
“They reached out to us for community connections and financial stability to see if we could make something happen,” said Bowman. With the help of the ISSU, the boys were able to afford teamwear and even have a party after the tournament.
As long-time fans of the Little Native Hockey League, Bowman and the members of the union felt that supporting the Hitmen was more than just an act of kindness. They hoped their actions could have an impact on Indigenous youth and groups in Canada.
“It’s a great opportunity for Indigenous children to flourish in an environment that’s designed for them,” said Bowman. The tournament seeks to provide players with skills such as fair play and sportsmanship, which will bring success on and off the rink. “It also makes the Indigenous youth proud to be from their communities and a culture that has historically been disenfranchised from them,” he added.
Bowman described the union’s collaboration with the Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen as a success. “I just remember when I was a kid playing sports, getting a team jacket was like no other feeling quite like it. Walking around my school and showing everybody my team I played with, the group of friends that I had, just means that much more,” said Bowman.
For Bowman and his peers, bringing a little light to the kids’ day was a great reward. “In the end the impact was seeing the smile on their faces.”
Bowman added that this positive impact can help create pride in the kids’ identity, because in “a lot of educational institutions, such as ours, people have been made to feel ashamed of their identities.”
The ISSU, which is a course union under the Faculty of Arts and Science Students’ Union, strives to foster “respectful relationships within and beyond the membership in the spirit of the Indigenous values of friendship and community.” They provide services and support students who need a helping hand on campus and hold events, such as the annual Pow Wow, which brought in more than hundreds of spectators and volunteers. One of their goals is to make the University of Toronto a place where Indigenous peoples can feel accepted.
The ISSU exemplifies how people can come together and appreciate one another’s cultures. Still, there’s a lot of work yet to be done in order to create true equality. “There are media outlets everywhere that love to paint Indigenous people in a negative light, and it’s because of this Indigenous people are politically, socially and economically marginalized,” said Bowman.
Giving students, and more importantly, children, a chance to showcase their talents is necessary first step.
“We are just providing a platform for those voices to be heard, so by helping the Aamjiwnaang Jr. Hitmen and doing more events like these it’s a step in the right direction.”