The Tseshaht singers filled Port Alberni’s arena with sound as they belted out a welcome song during the opening ceremonies of the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge held Dec. 29 to Jan. 4 with Tseshaht playing a role as major sponsor.
Tseshaht pride was front and centre over the holiday season as competitors from across Canada and around the globe met in Port Alberni for the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge.
From the opening ceremonies to closing acknowledgments of the 10-day international event, held Dec. 29 to Jan. 4, Chief Councillor Les Sam said it was good to be Nuu-chah-nulth in the Alberni Valley, with the profile of the Tseshaht raised on the world stage and co-operation between the local Native and non-Native communities cemented for future time.
Sam said the decision to become involved as a major sponsor in the event was made by Tseshaht very early on in the planning of the competition. Organizers brought the concept to the community from the onset, which Sam said was very much appreciated. He said the Tseshaht community recognized the magnitude of the event and what it meant to the valley and the people living here.
Tseshaht’s involvement was integrated at every milestone moment, including a traditional welcome to the Tseshaht traditional territory to the visitors by Sam and a prayer offered by Willard Gallic in the Nuu-chah-nulth language for the safety of the players, their coaches and chaperones.
At the opening ceremonies, the Tseshaht singers filled the arena with sound as they sung a welcome song. Dancers were strategically placed in the stands so that all could watch their graceful movements.
Jane Jones organized Tseshaht artists who crafted unique gifts for teams and individual players. Hockey sticks were purchased and painted with Nuu-chah-nulth symbols and designs for each of the teams. Artists were Pat Amos, Andrew Dick, Ron Dick, Chuck Dorian, Jake Gallic, Tim Taylor, Tobias Watts, Ben David, Melissa Ross and Ken Sam Jr. Other artists (Wayne Dick, Connie Watts, Gail Gus, Tyrone Marshall and Luxy Barney contributed etched vases, bent boxes, coasters and a lighter.
After each game, Ed Ross, Tseshaht’s de facto ambassador to the Under 17 youth competition, presented the top player from each team with a cedar headband woven by Faith Watts. Sam said Ross, who volunteered his time for the event, became the face of the Nuu-chah-nulth and Tseshaht by virtue of his presence at most of the games, which were broadcast on television, including TSN for the final between Team Ontario and Team Pacific.
Sam said special recognition goes to Jane Jones and Ed Ross for their efforts. Jones was part of the opening ceremonies committee. Other community members, including Doug Wilson, volunteered much time and energy into making the tournament a success.
Renowned artist Gordon Dick designed and fashioned a silver pendant to be presented to the most valuable player of the winning team in the gold medal game. On it was a hockey stick and the Tseshaht logo. The pendant was awarded to JP Anderson of Ontario.
Tseshaht’s young hockey players were also showcased during intermission on-ice action. Sam said he hoped the experience would allow the young athletes to see the caliber of game play and encourage them to aspire to participate at that level in the future.
He said it would be nice to one day see a Tseshaht on the ice with such an elite team.
Game tickets that came with sponsorship were distributed to community members by way of a draw held during the community’s Christmas dinner.
Jones said it really thrilled her to see members of the community, especially the younger members, get an opportunity to attend the event.
Sam said it was gratifying to him to see such a large Tseshaht contingent attend and participate at the tournament. Asked if more tangible benefits than an awareness of Tseshaht and the Nuu-chah-nulth culture would accrue to the community because of their sponsorship, Sam said it’s so much easier to work together with the regional district and the City of Port Alberni to showcase the area, and the historical barriers to that working relationship needed to be addressed. Sponsorship of the Under 17 hockey challenge was a step in that direction.
“We can’t be strangers because we live on the opposite side of the river,” said Sam.
By Debora Steel