Why Team North's most important stick may not score a goal
'Spirit stick' helps bring teammates together at National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Whitehorse
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."
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.
'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."
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.