Future of Aboriginal hockey Team North on thin ice as organizer pulls out

Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT has been putting together Team North with top athletes from all three territories for years. The group announced last week it will no longer organize the team.

Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT will no longer organize Team North in order to focus more on N.W.T. athletes

A Team North athlete on the ice at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship in Whitehorse in May 2019. (Laisa Kilabuk/Flickr)

After several years of gathering the North's top Aboriginal hockey talent into one team, the Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT announced it will no longer organize Team North.

Team North represented the three territories at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships — an annual Canada-wide hockey tournament for Bantam and Midget-aged Indigenous hockey players.

In a news release on July 3, the Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT announced it will no longer take on the organizer role effective immediately. This news comes just months after the championships came North to Whitehorse this spring.

Aaron Wells, the executive director of the organization, says the sports circle began organizing Team N.W.T. around 2010. It was about five years ago when it branched out to create Team North.

"It was a major program for us. A lot of financial contribution, a lot of manpower," said Wells.

All the weight was on the Northwest Territories.- Gael Marchand, executive director of Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle

The organization has been spending between $150,000 to $200,000 yearly on Team North — mainly on travel, food and accommodations of 36 athletes and about a dozen staff members, but also on equipment, freight and registration fees, said Wells. Last year, the total bill came to $194,960, according to the organization's annual report.

And organizing it is a year-long process, Wells added.

Wells, executive director of Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT, says organizing Team North for the past few years has taken a lot of manpower and financial contribution. (Laisa Kilabuk/Flickr)

Wells said the recent decision to no longer organize Team North was ultimately due to a shift in the sports circle's new strategic plan created in November.

He said Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT will now focus its efforts and funds on more Indigenous athletes in N.W.T. communities, in multiple sports, in all levels. 

"We want to have a bigger impact across a variety of youth and a variety of sports."

Wells said the organization has tried to create partnerships with several Yukon and Nunavut sport organizations in the past few years.

What's gonna happen now? Is Team North done? The answer ultimately, I'm hoping, is no.- Aaron Wells. executive director of Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT

"They don't seem as interested to pursue Team North as we would have liked," said Wells. "And that ultimately helped us make our decision."

Wells said some of those organizations have at times pitched in financially, but it hadn't been adequate. 

"The questions I've been getting is, 'What's gonna happen now? Is Team North done?' The answer ultimately, I'm hoping, is no," said Wells.

"We're just done organizing it. That doesn't mean a territorial sport organization or another group ... can't carry that torch." 

Wells said no group has stepped up to take over yet. He said the organization will help whoever wants to start organizing the team with resources and equipment.

'It's sad': Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle

"It was great while it lasted," said Gael Marchand, executive director of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle. "But all the weight was on the Northwest Territories."

Marchand said the Aboriginal Sports Circle NWT scouted a few players from Yukon each year, and his organization helped with that process.

A Team North athlete at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Whitehorse in May. The years-long organizer of the team says it will now focus on developing athletes in the N.W.T. as part of its new strategy. (Laisa Kilabuk/Flickr)

"It's sad it's not going to exist anymore but it's also a new period, a new opportunity for people to create new programs ... to rebuild."

Marchand said his organization will now have to look to building partnership with sport organizations in Yukon to support Yukon's Aboriginal hockey athletes compete at the national level.

"Now every territory will have to work internally with all the hockey partners into building up long-term development plan and programs ... for next year," said Marchand.

"Maybe it's an opportunity for people to step up and to fill that void."

The Nunavut government's sports and recreation division said no one is available to comment until the end of the week. 


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