Indigenous hockey team that endured racist taunts 'overwhelmed' by response to story

The manager of Quebec's First Nation Elites says they've received messages of support from all over the country, and from the NHL. 'We are thankful everyone is taking this seriously.'

First Nation Elites team receives letters of encouragement, donated ice time, and NHL support

A power skating workshop Thursday at the Meredith Centre in Chelsea, Que., was donated to the First Nations Elites team by Max Puissance Power Skating Gatineau. (Submitted by Tammy Scott )

A First Nations team involved in an ugly incident at a tournament in Quebec City last month, says they're "overwhelmed" by the response to the story and hope to create a movement to rid hockey of racism.

Students from schools in the Ottawa and Gatineau area sent the First Nation Elites letters of support. (Submitted by Tommy H.J. Neeposh)

The First Nation Elites, a Quebec team of high-level Indigenous hockey players from several Cree, Innu, Mi'kmaq, Algonquin and Atikamekw communities, say they were subjected to racial taunts, mock war cries and tomahawk chops from some of the other players and spectators at a bantam AAA tournament in late May.

They also say the referees did nothing to stop the attacks.

"We are thankful everyone is taking this seriously," said team manager Tommy H. J. Neeposh, who filmed some of the incident and shared it on social media.

"I've been so overwhelmed with everything that's been going on."

Support from across country, NHL

Neeposh says that over the last month, the team has received messages of support from all over the country.

On Thursday, the Elites players had a power skating session at the Meredith Centre in Chelsea, Que., using ice time donated by a local company. The event was organized by Tammy Scott.

"What happened in Quebec City made me so angry, and anger is just wasted energy if it's not turned into positive action," said Scott.

"I want everyone to know racism is never OK. I want these boys to know my community supports them."

Earlier this month, Todd Woodcroft, assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets, brought some of his team to hold an NHL-style prospect camp with the Elites players.

A team photo of the First Nation Elites, who are between 13 and 14 years old. (Submitted by Tommy H.J. Neeposh)

"Everybody was full of smiles," said Neeposh, adding Woodcroft told the players, who are between 13 and 14 years old, he was there to "show you that the hockey world does care."

The team also received messages from former NHL player and coach Ted Nolan and his sons Jordan and Brandon Nolan.

Students from some schools in the Ottawa/Gatineau have also sent handwritten cards and messages of support to the team.

'It's not isolated to one city'

For Rhonda Oblin Cooper, the mother of one of the youngest players on the First Nation Elites, there have been many positives out of her son Ronin's bad experience in Quebec City.

But she says more needs to be done.

"It's not unique. It's not isolated to one city or one province," said Oblin Cooper, who says she followed the reaction to their story closely and heard from Indigenous parents from coast to coast, who shared similar experiences.

Another letter of support sent to the First Nation Elites. (Submitted by Tommy H.J. Neeposh)

She says it's time for that to change and for arenas be made anti-bullying zones.

"There are a lot of children who are in these facilities. They should be safe zones," said Oblin Cooper, who along with her husband Chris, other parents and First Nation Elites management, are looking into filing a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, with the support of the Cree Nation Government.

The Coopers say their experience has prompted them to have an important discussion with their children about racism and how to react.

For the moment, the First Nation Elites are preparing for a weekend bantam AAA tournament in the Ottawa area: the Canada Day Cup, which is happening June 30 to July 2.

Chris Cooper says the team is trying to focus and have fun on the ice.

"I think they feel like there is a lot of support for them," said Chris Cooper. "It's going to boost them a lot and motivate them."