Why Team North's most important stick may not score a goal

Before every game that Team North plays at this year's National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Whitehorse, something unique takes place — the 'spirit stick' makes an appearance.

'Spirit stick' helps bring teammates together at National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Whitehorse

Team North's 'spirit stick' is carried onto the ice before every game the team plays at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships this week in Whitehorse. (George Maratos/CBC)

Before every game that Team North plays at this year's National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Whitehorse, something unique takes place.

It's a demonstration that shows why this is more than a hockey tournament.

One player steps out alone onto the ice, and circles the entire rink carrying a stick. Not a hockey stick, though, but something called a "spirit stick."

It was gifted to the players by Kwanlin Dun First Nation elder William Carlick.

"The stick is meant to connect the players to their spirit," said Carlick. "It's for both teams, all the players ... it provides guidance and protection, almost like insurance."

A Team North player skates onto the ice with the spirit stick. (CBC)

The stick was presented to the players prior to the tournament's start, during a sweat lodge ceremony that was meant to welcome the players and bring them closer to one another.

Many of the players on Team North have come from Nunavut and the N.W.T. to play this week alongside their new Yukon teammates.

Some only met for the first time a few days ago.

Piper Fordham of Yukon says the stick has been great for bringing the team together in a short period of time.

It's such an honour to have it.- Piper Fordham, Team North

"We bring it everywhere ... it really helps, I think," said the 17-year-old Fordham. "I've never experienced anything like this before."

The player who carries the stick on the ice is decided simply enough.

"It's really whoever wants to, whoever is showing the pride to do so," Fordham said.

Kwanlin Dun elder William Carlick gifted the spirit stick to Team North. It's meant to connect them with their culture and their spirit, and offer protection. (George Maratos/CBC)

'Makes you feel really proud'

Fordam was the first player to carry the stick for Team North.

"It felt really good to have something different than all the other teams, it just makes you feel really proud," she said. "It's such an honour to have it."

Fordham, a Teslin Tlingit citizen who grew up in Whitehorse, says the stick has helped her better identify with her own First Nation's history.

"I'm not as connected to my culture as I wish I was," she said. "The stick has really helped me learn more about my culture...who we are, and the things we have done and are doing."

Piper Fordham is playing for Team North at this year's National Aboriginal Hockey Championships. (George Maratos/CBC)

The young hockey player says the tournament as a whole has been instrumental in helping educate her not only about her culture, but all of the other ones represented at this tournament.

"I've learned so much about my community and what other provinces are like with their Indigenous people," said Fordham. "It's helped me learn a lot more about Canada."

The spirit stick seems to be working on the scoreboard as well.

The Team North boys started the tournament by defeating Ontario 4-3. The girls followed that win with a 7-0 victory over Team Eastern Door.

The tournament continues until Sunday.

About the Author

George Maratos

Associate Producer

George Maratos is a reporter and associate producer at CBC Yukon with more than a decade of experience covering the North.