Cree youth take hockey skills to China

Some Cree youth recently brought their hockey skills to Beijing as part of a 7-day Quebec trade mission aimed at expanding economic ties with China.

'Beyond the raw materials, what distinguishes us ... are our talents,' says Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard

Ronin Cooper, left, with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, centre, and teammate Alayna-Jade Gull. The Cree youth were part of the delegation that visited Beijing. (Submitted by Chris Cooper)

Some Cree youth recently brought their hockey skills to Beijing, as part of a seven-day Quebec trade mission aimed at expanding economic ties with China.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard hosted a delegation in late January from 140 Quebec companies representing seven sectors — sports and consumer goods, entertainment and innovation and culture, among others. Quebec also hosted a winter carnival and took part in hockey demonstrations with young Chinese players.

"It was fun. It was a bit hard. They were pretty good," said Alayna-Jade Gull, an 11 year old forward on the team. Gull and her teammate, 12-year-old Ronin Cooper, represented the James Bay community of Waswanipi during the trade mission. There were also two Algonquin players from Kitigan-Zibi.  

The youth played three exhibition games, including at the national stadium known as the Bird's Nest, built for the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing.

"I'm a big hockey guy. I love watching my daughter play," said Jarris Gull, Alayna-Jade's father, who was a chaperone on the trip.

"Seeing her play at the Bird's Nest... it was something special."

The Cree hockey delegation in China. (Submitted by Jarris Gull)

The delegation also visited the hockey arena being built for the 2022 Olympics and visited the Great Wall of China.

"All the First Nations kids wanted to keep going," said Jarris Gull, who took a small group of the hockey players to the top of the Great Wall.

"We went to the highest peak, but had to go pretty fast, because we had to go back for a hockey game."

The Quebec-based École de Hockey Michel Vallière was part of organizing the skills exercises, which included the players from Waswanipi and Kitigan-Zibi, as well as non-Indigenous players from the community of Ste Agathe des Monts. It is part of a growing partnership between the school and China.

Quebec exports to China $3 billion

Quebec is trying to position itself as a winter sport expert and an obvious choice as a foreign investor as China expands development of its regional sports industry, particularly hockey in the lead up to the 2022 Winter Olympics planned for Beijing.

Jarris Gull, left, and Alayna-Jade Gull at the Great Wall of China. (Submitted by Rhonda Oblin Cooper)

In 2016, Quebec exports to China were $3 billion, up 12.1 per cent from the previous year; Chinese imports to Quebec totalled $10.8 billion.

Premier Couillard says highlighting people's expertise is a priority for him.

"We have given ourselves the means to better support our businesses, our educational institutions and our organizations in their projects," said Couillard in a press release.

"Because, beyond the raw materials, what distinguishes us ... are our talents."