Hockey. The name says it all, doesn’t it? From the smell of sweet success to the low points of almost winning. As a reader, you have read about the highs and lows of the game – many times. But could hockey save a soul? Could hockey offer salvation?
A lot has been written about the Indian Residential Schools in Canada. First Nation Children were taken away from their parents and homes to have their culture spanked out of them. They learned English instead of their native language. They were also physically and sexually abused – over many years and many kids were involved. These kids lived a hard, uncaring, and fearful life while they were in residential schools.
Hockey was also played as part of the curriculum.
The year was around 1945 and the residential schools were in their prime. Priests and others taught the boys the game of hockey. Road games were played, practice was held every day and the kids played on frozen ponds or fields. They even got to play with Non-Aboriginal kids.
Could hockey elicit such a positive experience that it could keep in check some of the negative harsh realities from life in a boarding school? Can hockey save people?
Some say it can. Former students have said that hockey was the bright spot of the day. All around life was hell, but when they got onto the ice, these students just flew. Maybe to these kids, hockey meant freedom from their schools – on the ice and far from the teachers. I could see the game becoming much more than just a sport. I can see freedom in the cold wind and on the ice. No wonder the students wanted to play.
Some former students have said that hockey helped them after the schools were closed down. These small kids grew up in horrible schools. They came in as children and left sometimes 14 years later as young adults. Battered physically and beaten mentally, young adults came out of residential schools lost and broken. Some turned to drugs and drink to fill the gap or ease the pain, others decided to make something out of their lives. Some acknowledge that instead of drinking the pain away, they played hockey.
One residential school, at which lots of abuse happened, was called Ermineskin. Hockey was even a part of the schedule here. Willie Littlechild was a student and played hockey at Ermineskin. Hockey continued to play a huge role in his life as he went on to play in University. He explained that he had two choices: one was to play hockey, survive, and finish school – and the other was to drink.
Can hockey influence a person? Can it influence a generation of people? Maybe. I believe that hockey did play a huge role in how people lived after the residential schools. I also think that a lot of these students used hockey as therapy. I just hope it worked.