Building the future of Indigenous hockey

June 18, 2019

Western researchers travelled to Whitehorse to attend the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships

A group of researchers recently travelled to Whitehorse to help build the future of Indigenous hockey.

Janice Forsyth, Director of the First Nations Studies program, and four Western students travelled to the Yukon as part of the Decolonizing Sport: Indigeneity, Hockey, and Canadian Nationhood project.

Forsyth and the students, Kalley Armstrong and Dallas Hauck, both MA students in Anthropology, Andrew Pettit, a PhD student in the Transitional Justice program, and Taylor McKee, a PhD student in Kinesiology, conducted research and volunteered at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championship (NAHC). Forsyth is also president of the Aboriginal Sport Circle, which owns the franchise rights for the NAHC.

The research was intended to develop a socio-demographic profile of the athletes participating in the NAHC, and provide support for the potential future growth of the tournament.

Pettit was most interested in surveying players to determine their motivation and desires for participating in the NAHC. He was also interested in learning more about the logistic hurdles that tournaments like the NAHC, and what tournament organizers do to ensure the tournament success.

“I hope to learn a lot from the people who spend so much time organizing something that is ultimately not about themselves, but about their youth,” said Pettit.

For Kalley Armstrong, the connection to the project was a bit more personal. She had participated in the tournament the year previously, as a coach for Team Ontario Women’s team.

Armstrong’s Master’s research is focused on Indigenous hockey, specifically the life story of her grandfather, former Toronto Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong, and she is very involved with hockey around London. At the tournament, Armstrong was asked to speak to a group of players from Atlantic Canada about her experiences of hockey.

“It was really cool to be part of the community of the NAHC, and to pass what I learned down to the younger generation,” said Armstrong.

“I hope this project will provide resources for these kids so they are able to get the opportunities and recognition they deserve,” said Armstrong.

The students also provided statistical data on player’s performance to the tournament organizers.

“The students focused on learning how to support the needs of the organization and aboriginal sport, and what an event of this calibre looks like when it’s under-resourced,” said Forsyth.

“This is an outcome that, in a very important way, is meant to be something that we can help contribute to the tournament and its success, especially in the minds of the athletes who are competing,” said Pettit.

“The tournament generally doesn’t have enough resources for this,” said Armstrong, “so we stepped in to help with this.”

Armstrong feels that hockey can be a powerful tool to get through life.

“There is something really special about it. It connects you to people you may not be connected to, and provides a strong support system,” said Armstrong. “Hockey helped me get through things, through playing, competing and the relationships I built. The lessons I took away from the game really prepared me for things off the ice.”

With the information gathered from the study, organizers will be able to better support the players, which could include attracting more professional scouts to attend, or garnering more partnerships to support teams and players.

Armstrong recently founded Armstrong Hockey, a hockey development initiative dedicated towards Indigenous Youth, and is organizing a youth hockey camp, run by Indigenous instructors with strong hockey backgrounds, for Indigenous youth hockey players.

“I think Indigenous hockey is really going places. It’s exciting to see. I hope the NACH gains the recognition it deserves,” said Armstrong. “There is a lot of talent out there and it would be rewarding to see these kids goals play out through the tournament and their careers.”


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