By Tony Jocko
M’CHIGEENG FIRST NATION – Women’s Team Canada hockey alumni Cheryl Pounder and Becky Kellar shared their teaching and talent over three days with the young girls – our leaders of tomorrow.
The duo came to share a message which was one of hope, of taking care of ourselves, and each other, daring to be different, and having the courage to make healthy choices. Above all, their message was that hard work, and working together, triumphed over all else.
Pounder and Kellar collectively earned five Olympic gold medals, and nine IIHF World Champion gold medals, over the course of their stellar international careers. Their accomplishments did not come easy. They suffered many setbacks in their quest for gold. Pounder was the youngest defender to make the national team at 17 years of age. She was subsequently cut from the team that was headed to the Olympics that year.
Their first visit to Manitoulin Island on Oct 21-23 was a joint effort amongst the Union of Ontario Indians, the Anishinabek Educational Institute, and the Lakeview School in M’Chigeeng.
The first group of young girls to experience the power of Pounder and Kellar’s message was a contingent of 25 skaters from the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. The group was made up of six young ladies from the Wasse Abin High School, nine from the Wasse Abin Pontiac Senior Elementary School, and 10 girls from the Wasse Abin Junior Elementary School.
First was an ice session with the Team Canada instructors and joining the instructors each day was an Anishinabek role model. Melissa Seamont of Eagle Village First Nation, was first to take to the ice in that role.
Seamont was a prime example for the girls in using sports, such as hockey, to get an education. Seamont earned a hockey scholarship to play women’s hockey at Oswego College in upstate New York. She will soon begin her career as a teacher.
The girls participated in skating, passing, puck handling, and shooting drills interspersed with several fun types of on ice activities.
Two of the participating Wiikwemkoong students shared their experiences.
Amber Lewis, a Grade 12 student from Wasse Abin High School thought it had been an awesome day, a great experience.
Grade 5 student Victoria Trudeau from the Pontiac School said that the Olympic women gave her the confidence not to be shy and to believe in herself.
“I really liked their stories,” said Trudeau. “Tonight I am going to dream of being at the Olympics on Team Canada, and Becky and Cheryl are going to be there with me!”
21 girls in Grades 4-8 from Biidaaban Kinoomagegamik School in Sagamok Anishnawbek made their way to M’Chigeeng to hear the Olympic message.
Joining the Sagamok group for the day was Deidre Debassige from M’Chigeeng. Debassige was a member of the Sudbury Lady Wolves Midget “AA” team that made it to the National Midget Championships last year where they earned a bronze medal. She followed that up with an outstanding performance at the National Aboriginal Championships and was chosen as a First Team All Star defenseman. She has been courted by several university programs on both sides of the border, and hopes to pursue her dream of becoming a psychologist.
Jacinta Eshkakogan, Grade 5 student from Biidaaban Kinoomagegamik said that the athletes taught her to think about trying hard and giving 100 per cent.
Host Lakeview School saw 21 skaters from Kindergarten to Grade 8 take the ice as well.
Amber Debassige, another well-known hockey hero from M’Chigeeng joined the skaters for the day. She had enjoyed a remarkable hockey career, moving up through the local ranks to join the Sudbury Lady Wolves, before playing two seasons with Etobicoke Junior program. Amber had just completed the Police Foundations program, and is now considering her career options.
Grade 6 student Darci Debassige said she liked the way Kellar and Pounder encouraged the group.
“They told me never to give up,” said Darci.
Randi Lovelace a Grade 7 student was also impressed.
“I liked how they inspired us to live out our dreams,” said Lovelace. “They inspired me to play hockey and I hope that I’m there one day!”
Lakeview Principal Neil Debassige and the entire team at Lakeview did a tremendous job of co-ordinating the event.
Both Kellar and Pounder were really impressed with the enthusiasm and attentiveness of the girls. It was their first trip to Manitoulin Island and they would love to come back.