Ontario’s largest Indigenous hockey tournament began in Mississauga, Ont., on Sunday and thousands of First Nations children and teens are taking part.
The 49th Little Native Hockey League (LNHL) tournament, known as the Little NHL, got underway on Sunday evening with opening ceremonies at Paramount Fine Foods Centre. The event runs until Thursday.
Nipissing First Nation is hosting the event, which features 184 teams from across Ontario. A total of 487 games are being played in four days at five Mississauga arenas. It’s the first time that the event is being held since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Patrick Madahbee, president of the LNHL, said on Sunday that the tournament brings Indigenous young people together to play hockey, and helps to unite First Nations communities. More than 2,400 children and teens are expected at the event.
“We have kids that come here that don’t play in regular leagues,” he said. “They put on teams. We have teams that have never played before.”
Madahbee said the event is intended to make hockey more inclusive.
He said organizers seek to instill in players what they call four pillars: sportsmanship, respect, citizenship and education. Off the ice, there are booths in the arenas to provide information to young people about career opportunities, he added.
“The hockey is great on the ice, but we’re really trying to build good citizens,” he said.
Madahbee said the event also promotes girls’ hockey and the girls’ division has grown over the years.
Chico Ralf, vice-president of LNHL, said some participants are from northern fly-in communities, and in some cases, it has taken them three days to get to Mississauga.
“They have to go by ice road, get on the train, then rent a bus to get down here,” he said.
Ralf said there is much support for individual players from members of First Nations.
“Our community members support their players. The aunties, the uncles, all the nieces and nephews. That’s why there’s such a turnout of the numbers at this tournament,” he said,
“It’s not a hockey tournament. It’s an event, it’s a gathering, it’s a coming together of our people and we’re so proud of it.”
The event began in Little Current on Manitoulin Island in 1971, with 200 players from 17 teams.
This year, on Saturday, the ceremonial headdress belonging to Chief Scott McLeod of the Nipissing First Nation was stolen. The headdress was inside his vehicle, a green 2022 Jeep Wrangler, and the vehicle was stolen from the parking lot of Sandman Signature Mississauga Hotel. The headdress and vehicle have not been recovered.