The Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Derek Fox, says events like the Lil’ Bands First Nations hockey tournament can help improve mental health and well-being for kids across the region.
38 First Nations youth hockey teams got together in Dryden and Eagle Lake First Nation last week for the return of the annual tournament – after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
“To me, it means a better life. It’s more than just the game itself,” says Fox.
“As a young person, growing up in Thunder Bay. I had a rink and skates. I got good at hockey because that’s all I had to do. And I had things going on at home. Hockey was my outlet. The ability to skate and dream about winning the Stanley Cup. That’s all I had,” he adds.
As a 16-year-old, the future Grand Chief was drafted in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League’s Selection Draft to the Soo Greyhounds – and has played for Ted Nolan and with Jonathon Cheechoo on the international stage. He later played in the NCAA, before pursuing a law career.
“So, when you talk about Lil Bands, that’s really all they have, some of those kids. The one time of the year, that’s all they have,” Fox adds.
The event also included family and player events hosted by Tikinagan Child and Family Services, including sliding events, free pancake breakfasts, bowling and more.
Next up, families will be headed back to Dryden in mid-March as 48 adult First Nation hockey teams will be coming together for the annual Big Bands tournament. That’s also been paused since 2020.