By Sam Laskaris
WIKWEMIKONG—Tributes are pouring in for long-time sports advocate and Wikwemikong Unceded Territory Elder Paul Williams who began his journey into the Spirit World on Monday, May 8.
Williams, who served as the Elder on the executive committee for the Little NHL tournament, was 69. He passed on the day after being released from hospital in Sudbury.
Marvin Assinewai, the former president of the Little NHL, said he spoke to his close friend Williams on the weekend, after his hospital release.
“He was saying he was feeling better,” Assinewai said. “But I could tell in his voice. I got a feeling things were not quite right. At least I had an opportunity to talk to him before he went to the Spirit World. He will be missed.”
Williams had been involved with the Little NHL, which has been running for the past 46 years, since its early days.
He coached a number of teams in the tournament’s early years. And in following years he held various positions on the Little NHL executive.
“He was always a great supporter and always a great promoter for the Little NHL,” Assinewai said.
Williams had been named the lone Elder on the tournament’s executive committee last year, after another Elder, George Francis from the Whitefish River First Nation, passed on into the Spirit World.
Though he never officially served on the Wikwemikong council, Williams’ wife Tayou Rivers said her late husband was often considered “13th councillor” as he was a member of numerous committees in the community.
The couple had been together for 35 years and had four children.
Williams held a number of different jobs over the years. His career included working as Wikwemikong’s recreation director and arena manager. Other positions included being a truck driver and heavy equipment operator.
Williams had also sat on various sports and recreation, lands and public works committees. And he was on the community’s Elder Council.
Wikwemikong councillor Lawrence Enosse said Williams’ death is a significant blow to the First Nation.
“It’s a big loss,” he said. “He was one of the constant contributors to sports and recreation in the community.”
Besides spending a number of years coaching various teams, Williams had also refereed his share of hockey matches.
Though he was not on the bench or refereeing in recent years, Enosse said Williams was still an instrumental figure.
“He had been more of a mentor to the coaches and the minor hockey executive,” said Enosse, who is also a member of the Little NHL executive committee.
Debbie Debassige, the current president of the Little NHL executive committee, said Williams’ death caught her off guard.
“It was a surprise and a shock,” she said. “We knew he wasn’t feeling well in March at the tournament [held in Mississauga]. But when I saw him in the hospital on Saturday he looked good.”
Debassige added Williams’ death is especially hard since it was just over a year ago that Elder Francis had passed away.
“It’s going to take some healing for the executive,” she said. “And it’s going to leave a void. But we know Paul’s vision and Paul’s passion and that he wanted to see the four pillars of the Little NHL continue.”
The event’s pillars are Education, Citizenship, Sportsmanship and Respect.
Williams is survived by his wife, their four children, Keya, Jack, Liberty and Wilfred, and three grandchildren, Darsii, Isaac, and Vada.