Nipissing Warrior team of 1965 photographed with the fans. Photo originally taken by Frank Fluvian in 1965.

By Kelly Anne Smith

NIPISSING FIRST NATION—There was a full house for the premiere screening of the Nipissing Warriors Documentary at the Garden Village Community Centre on March 4.

Everyone was out to watch the chronicle of a great hockey team. They grasped the film’s deeper meaning of people finding identity in the Indigenous community.

The big years were 1965 – 1975. The team brought together young Anishinaabe players from around the region to win the 1972 Inter-Reserve Championship as well as the Industrial League Championship in Sturgeon Falls.  The legacy carries on in the many children who play hockey in the Little NHL.

The documentary was part of the Nipissing First Nation Culture & Heritage project of preserving history. Nipissing First Nation Culture and Heritage Manager Glenna Beaucage and Associate Professor of History at Nipissing University Katrina Srigley produced the film with the support of Nipissing University, Nipissing First Nation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Ed Regan of Regan Pictures is the filmmaker of the documentary.

Beaucage and Srigley have been jointly working since 2010 to gather a comprehensive history of Nipissing First Nation. They are also getting close to finishing a book that will have chapters accompanied by a curriculum for the material to be taught in schools.

Beaucage says that people started to get excited about certain portions of the NFN history and that the community could hardly wait for the book to be published. The research duo then put their efforts into telling the story of the Nipissing Warriors.

“We had the Nipissing Warriors Hockey Team in the 70s,” stated Beaucage. “It is more of a story about surviving racism than about hockey.”

With Katrina situated at Nipissing University, she consulted with the university’s Elder-in-Residence Elder John Sawyer for the documentary.

“He happens to have been one of the Warriors we are talking about,” stated Beaucage. “I was a groupie at the time. I used to follow that team around. But John said ‘don’t forget this player’ or ‘go ask about that [issue]’.”

Professor Srigley says that former Chief Marianna Couchie of Nipissing First Nation was also consulted in the process.

“They wanted us to do the Warrior story,” explained Srigley. “That’s what they first wanted us to do our listening with was to the story of this hockey team. It wasn’t very long into doing photographs and doing interviews for us to realize this was much more than hockey.”

Srigley expanded on what the story signified.

“It was about family, about identity and belonging,” Srigley continued. “This was an all Anishinabek team that was highly successful. It included status and non-status members. It didn’t matter if you lived on Dokis First Nation or you lived in North Bay or you lived in the village. You were allowed on that team. That is a really important part of that story to share, about identity and belonging and the importance of family no matter what was going on in terms of the government and their colonial policies.”

Srigley says the Chief ignored the rules of the Indian Act and resisted the social violence of separating families.

“So, young men were on that team who hadn’t met off the ice before,” stated Srigley. “So now they’re together on that team.”

The professor points to the other crucial part of the story, the fans.

“The fans are packing the arena,” noted Srigley. “They are speaking Ojibway in the stands. The territory is blacked out because no one is at home when these games were played. The Elders are there so there is intergenerational storytelling going on.”

The players were supported by the strong men and strong women who were running the Homemakers Club on the territory.

“They made sure they had jerseys,” continued Srigley. “They made sure they had sticks. They were fundraising and celebrating them or organizing the school bus to get people to the games. It’s a community story. It’s a family story, and a story of identity as well.”

Nipissing Warriors Documentary will be digitally released on May 5, 2017.