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New hockey class aims to support First Nation youth in Thunder Bay

Mike Kompon is the recreation and athletic director at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School. He is teaching a new hockey class and hopes the sport will help smooth the transition for First Nation students who move to Thunder Bay for school.
Students hit the ice in hockey class at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School, First Nations high school in Thunder Bay. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)
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Mike Kompon left home at 16 to play junior league hockey. He still remembers the tough transition of moving away from his family.

His experience helps him relate to the teenagers he coaches at Dennis Franklin Cromarty (DFC) High School, a First Nations school in Thunder Bay.

Thunder Bay is the urban hub for many surrounding First Nations, many of which are hours away by plane and don't have high schools for students to attend. Students must move to Thunder Bay to attend high school, leaving home for 10-month periods. 

"At 16, it was tough for me to be away from my family," Kompon recalled. "It's comparable, but not comparable," he added, referring to the differences between his experience and those of his students.

Moving away from small communities to a city like Thunder Bay can be daunting for students, explained Kompon, who is the recreation and athletic director at DFC. 

For many DFC students it is the first time they are away from their families for an extended length of time. 

"The ultimate goal is to have fun while we're learning," said coach Mike Kompon. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Kompon is teaching a new hockey class at the school, and hopes hockey can help ease the transition of being away from home.

So far, he said, it seems to be working.

Wolfe Tait, a student at DFC, said it's hard being away from his family in Sachigo Lake First Nation. "But I'm just excited about coming here to play some hockey, and start some new things." (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Wolfe Tait is from the Sachigo Lake First Nation, about a three-hour flight from Thunder Bay. Living in the city is challenging, Tait said, but he also feels a lot of support.

"It's been kind of hard, being away from family and all," Tait said. "But I'm just excited about coming here to play some hockey and start some new things."

The hockey class is the latest attempt by the school to help make First Nation youth feel more welcome. DFC also offers classes that aim to support students get a head start in many careers, including woodworking, welding and other trades.

Both Tait and Dylan Meekis have played hockey since they were five-years-old. Meekis, who is from Deer Lake First Nation, a four-hour flight from Thunder Bay, wasn't sure he'd fit in when he moved to the city.

Hockey has helped, he explained. It has also helped him with his other studies, he said. 

"It makes me focus more," Meekis said. 

Meekis said he misses his family every day, but the ice helps make him feel a bit more at home.

That was Kompon's hope for his hockey class. 

Dylan Meekis, from Deer Lake First Nation, said hockey helps him focus in his other studies. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

"I think sports bring people together," he said. "The talent is great, they work extremely hard, but the ultimate goal is to have fun while we're learning.

"It's an honour to teach them."