Jewish and indigenous hockey teams do good deeds together

Members of the Manitoulin Panthers and Avenue Road Ducks show off a cheque for Manitoulin Family Resources.

It’s no secret that sports can promote positive values, and hockey is no exception. The Manitoulin Panthers, an indigenous hockey team from Manitoulin Island, on Lake Huron, recently hosted the Avenue Road Ducks, a Jewish hockey team from Toronto.

The event took place on Dec. 15 and 16 in Little Current, Ont., as part of the annual Chevrolet Good Deeds Cup, which is designed to inspire young Canadians to do good by transforming the positive values learned through hockey into good deeds.

A first for youth hockey in Canada, the Jewish-indigenous cultural exchange was designed to promote inclusion, tolerance and education, and demonstrate how hockey can bridge today’s cultural divides.

“The Chevrolet Good Deed’s Cup is a Canada-wide competition for peewee hockey teams (ages 11 and 12) that do a good deed in their community,” said Alan Schwartz, a former hockey coach who has a child who plays for the Ducks.

For their good deed, the two teams held a joint food drive for Manitoulin Family Resources. The grand total raised was $6,488. In Toronto, the Ducks created a GoFundMe page and contributed $1,400, along with a van filled with non-perishable food items.

“Having the Ducks come out and support the programs here, and watching that collaboration between the teams working together for the benefit of people that they don’t even know because they know the need is there, is so positive,” said Marnie Hall, the executive director of Manitoulin Family Resources.

Nine of the 17-member Ducks team travelled to Manitoulin Island. On the bus ride, they educated coaches, parents and teammates about First Nations traditions and culture.

“The greatest compliment we could give our hosts was to show them that we had taken some time to learn a little about their lives,” said Schwartz. “The idea was to have the kids become the teachers and give us lessons.”

Dov Paskowitz, who plays for the Ducks, informed the group about the residential school system. “Over 150,000 children were taken from their families. They were sent away to residential schools,” said Paskowitz. “The children were forbidden to speak their language and practice their culture.”

Chanie Wenjack, an Ojibwe First Nations boy, ran away from a residential school in 1966. He became the inspiration for singer-songwriter Gord Downie to create the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF).

“Chanie tried to walk home to Ogoki post, 600 kilometres away, and he passed away when he was 11,” said Paskowitz. “The DWF shows that two different cultures could work together, just like we are. This fund calls Canadians to learn and act in unity with indigenous people.”

Norman Assiniwe of the Wikmemikong First Nations, centre, shows a beaver pelt to Avenue Road Ducks players. (Ian Gordon photo)

Eli Rewega, another Ducks player, discussed Jewish history in the north.

“Most of the Jews in northern Ontario came in the early 1900s. One hundred twenty-five Russian Jewish families decided to start a Jewish community near New Liskeard and Timmins. They had a mikveh, school, synagogue and cemetery and a small downtown,” Rewega explained.

“Joseph Gold was an activist in Manitoulin Island. Joseph was a devoted friend of First Nations people, committed to acknowledging the abuse carried out in the residential school system and helping to heal the scars of colonization. He worked as a counsellor for the First Nations of Temiskaming. His obituary in the Manitoulin newspaper said that he had a commitment to social change, love of nature, the northern landscape and animals. He brought tikun olam, helping the world, to Manitoulin, and so are we.”

The kids corresponded through social media for a month prior to meeting. “We are the first Jews many of these people have ever met. From exchanging information about why our boys were wearing a kippah, to the discovery of the indigenous traditions, they bonded seamlessly,” said Schwartz.

Scot Hughson, the coach of the Manitoulin Panthers, added that, “The way our players have worked together with the Ducks is incredible to be part of. I can say with confidence that there have been friendships created that will last a lifetime.”

The Ducks participated in a skinning demonstration, a trapping tour, a presentation on Wampum belts and were educated about the way many indigenous people live off the land.

The Panthers cooked a traditional Manitoulin meal, consisting of freshly caught fish, chilies and stews made with venison, deer and moose.

“Most of our players are kosher,” said Schwartz. “The parent group brought up their own pans and cooked the trout.”

The Panthers, many of whom are from the Wikmemikong First Nations Reserve, will experience a Shabbat dinner at Clanton Park Synagogue in Toronto on Jan. 10.