Indigenous hockey players learning on and off the ice at Membertou tournament
The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships is more than just hockey, it's a sharing of Indigenous cultures
Twenty Indigenous hockey teams from across the country are in Membertou, N.S., this week for the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.
Players and community leaders say the tournament is more than a game of hockey — it's also an opportunity to learn about Indigenous cultures from coast to coast.
Erin Denny is one of the 600 hockey players taking part. She's from Eskasoni and plays for Team Atlantic.
"We're excited. It's a really good experience playing with girls from all over the nation and being able to talk to them about their different experiences," said Denny.
Denny said she also enjoyed showing other players her home community.
"I've been talking to a few Manitoba girls and they visited my reserve and they went for a tour," said Denny. "It was really cool to see how others viewed my reserve."
It's the first time in 18 years the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships has been held in a Mi'kmaq community.
"We are proud to be the hosts," said Membertou Chief Terry Paul. "It showcases Membertou, it showcases Mi'kmaq and Unama'kik and the Atlantic."
Paul said it's a great chance for everyone to meet, share and learn together, on and off the ice.
"For us to make lasting friends and exchange good ideas about communities," said Paul. "If people can take away from Membertou what we have here and get some ideas, fantastic."
Since Sunday, several games have been played each day on the dual ice surfaces at the Membertou Sport and Wellness Centre.
'The event itself is awesome'
Kevin Ledoux plays for Team Saskatchewan.
"It's very special, you get to meet new people and you get to play against different athletes," he said. "And the event itself is awesome."
The 16-year-old Ledoux is from the Muskeg Lake First Nation.
"Makes me proud," said Ledoux. "It's great to see all the different cultures and the ethnicities coming together and to play a sport we all love."
'I'm very proud of showing everyone Membertou'
Sheldon GooGoo is from Membertou. He plays nets for Team Atlantic.
"I'm very proud of showing everyone Membertou, how well it has grown and how much it's developed," said GooGoo.
Reggie Leach played 13 seasons in the National Hockey League and won a Stanley Cup with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975.
He's an Ojibwe elder from Berens River First Nation in Manitoba.
An all-star NHL player and an Indigenous hockey legend, he's attended the tournament for many years. He said these young players will never forget the experience.
"All First Nation communities across the country are all different," said Leach. "They each have their own personality and for them to come out here and visit Sydney and Membertou, it is a great experience for everybody."
The championship game is set for Saturday.