Thunder Bay

First Nations girls suit up with donated gear for newly formed hockey team

Emma Tworzyanksi had no idea that a project for her Grade 12 sports management class in Markham, Ont., would land her nearly 2,000 kilometres away from home and create the foundation for the first-ever girls hockey team in Eabametoong First Nation.

Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario has never had a girls hockey team, until now

Girls in Grades 5 and 6 in Eabametoong First Nation now have their own hockey equipment for the first time thanks to a donation drive organized by a high school student from southern Ontario who herself has been playing hockey since she was four years old. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Emma Tworzyanski had no idea that a project for her Grade 12 sports management class would land her nearly 2,000 kilometres away from home and create the foundation for the first-ever girls hockey team in Eabametoong First Nation in northern Ontario.

The 17-year-old collected 45 hockey bags and five boxes full of donated hockey equipment in arenas near her home in Markham, Ont., and arranged to have them shipped to the fly-in community where her dad, an engineer, has travelled for work.

"My dad told me about how a lot of kids want to play hockey but they didn't have equipment and I've been playing hockey since I was four, so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to use my passion [for hockey] to help other people," Tworzyanski said of the inspiration for the project.

"It was just a small thing, and then it went crazy."

Emma Tworzyanski, a Grade 12 student at Bill Crothers Secondary School in Markham, Ont., collected used hockey equipment for youth in at Eabametoong First Nation, about 350 kilometres north of Thunder Bay. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Tworzyanski didn't know until she arrived in Eabametoong (formerly known as Fort Hope) on Wednesday just how welcome the equipment would be.

This fall, teacher Leslie Campbell decided she wanted girls in Eabametoong to have the same opportunity to play hockey that she had growing up in Whitby, Ont. But Campbell said she was losing sleep over how she'd make that happen.

There's only one store to serve the 1,300 people of Eabametoong and it doesn't sell hockey equipment. Helmets, pads and skates are too expensive to order for most families, and too bulky to fly the 350 kilometres north of Thunder Bay even if sponsors were found.

"We didn't have any hockey equipment for our team to use, so Candi [Chin-Sang] my co-coach and I were racking our brains to figure out how we can get 18 pieces of hockey equipment flown to our community for each of the 19 girls on our team," said Campbell.

Teacher-coach Leslie Campbell says before Tworzyanski's donation arrived she lost sleep over how to outfit an entire team in the fly-in community where there's nowhere to buy hockey gear. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Then Tworzyanski's donation arrived, courtesy of a truck driver she knew who took it as far as Thunder Bay and a construction crew her dad knew, with extra room on a plane headed to the First Nation.

"I really thought it was a dream," Campbell said when she heard about all the gear arriving. Eabametoong's recreation leader made sure the girls had the first pick of the donated equipment.

As the 11- and 12-year-olds tried on hockey pants and gloves for the first time during Tworzyanski's visit on Wednesday, they contemplated why boys have been playing hockey all along.

"They think they're better than us," said Tanisha Raven, who has plans to prove the boys wrong when she hits the ice.

Each of the 19 girls who wanted to be part of the new hockey team got her own bag full of equipment, including socks and a jersey. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Kiarra Oskineegish laughed as her jersey got caught in her shoulder pads as she pulled it on, as though she'd already been in her first hockey fight. 

"I want to play hockey so I can be good," she said. "Good at scoring goals."

The ice on the school's outdoor rink is nearly ready and there are plans to have the natural ice surface in the First Nation's only arena in place by Christmas.

Coach Campbell said when the girls get back from the holiday break she'll face her next challenge — fundraising to fly the team out to a tournament this spring.

Meanwhile, Tworzyanski has an invitation to come back anytime, with her own skates, so she can truly become part of this team, on the ice.

"I know how much fun it is and it's just amazing that I'm bringing this opportunity that they wouldn't have otherwise," she said.

Kiarra Oskineegish says she wants to get good at scoring goals now that she has hockey equipment thanks to Emma Tworzyanksi. (Jody Porter/CBC)


Jody Porter

Senior Reporter

Jody Porter is a senior reporter based in Thunder Bay, Ont. She is the recipient of a Debwewin Citation from the Anishinabek Nation for excellence in reporting on First Nations issues and a Massey College Clarkson Laureate in recognition of public service.