Nfld. & Labrador

'If he can do it, we can do it': Labrador reserve gets visit from retired NHL star Jordin Tootoo

Retired NHL star Jordin Tootoo visited Sheshatshiu to speak about his experience with suicide and alcoholism. He also hit the ice with the Eagles.

First Inuk in NHL was keynote speaker at suicide-prevention conference in Sheshatshiu

Jordin Tootoo, centre, hit the ice with the Sheshatshiu Eagles on Tuesday evening. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The crowds came out to see retired NHL star Jordin Tootoo in two completely contrasting events in Sheshatshiu on Tuesday.

At one, he spoke to a large crowd about the loss of his brother to suicide. In the other he joined the bench of the Sheshatshiu Eagles for an evening hockey match.

"It was a good experience being on the ice with him. His shot's wicked [and] he's really fast too," said goalie Matthew Davis. 

"Every kid on our [reserve] in Sheshatshiu, we all look up to him because he's a great leader for Indigenous people.… If he can do it, we can do it."

Matthew Davis played goalie both for and against Tootoo. He said he had a 'wicked shot' and was pretty quick. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the NHL, retired from professional hockey last fall, saying he wanted to give back to Indigenous communities. This is his first visit to Labrador.

"They're getting the experience of playing with a high-calibre First Nations person," Rena Penashue said while her son skated with the star, calling him a "positive role model."

Tootoo speaks at length about losing his brother Terence to suicide and his own struggles with sobriety. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"This is going to give them the drive to succeed, whether it's in their education or in their career."

Sharing his story

At the time of his retirement, Tootoo also said he would work to raise awareness about mental health and support suicide-prevention initiatives.

Melvin Michel of Sheshatshiu spoke alongside Tootoo, about losing his best friend, Uapastan Martin, to suicide. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

During his keynote speech Tuesday at the Ishpitentimun Suicide Prevention Conference, he spoke at length about losing his brother to suicide and his own battles with sobriety.

"We all fight a fight nobody knows about," Tootoo said when asked who was the toughest fighter he'd ever faced.

"Everyone can watch you fight playing hockey. The toughest fight is your own self."

Tootoo wasn't the only one who told their story to the crowd that day. Melvin Michel told his story of losing his best friend, Uapastan Martin, to suicide. 

"I got to tell everybody how it is and how it can affect everyone," Michel said. 

Rena Penashue, whose son got a chance to compete with Tootoo, says it's a great experience for the players to get some ice time with a high-calibre First Nations athlete. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"When I shared that podium with Jordin today, that's when I thought to myself, I'm going to share this story with many people, as much as I can."

Tootoo continues his tour around Labrador this week with a visit to Natuashish as well as some Nunatsiavut communities, and said the reception he received in Sheshatshiu was amazing.

Tootoo gets a shot with his team for the night, the Sheshatshiu Eagles. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"A lot of these kids can relate to my story, and if I can help one or two kids … it's a bonus," Tootoo said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.

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