Leader of First Nations community went on recent tour of town
By Shawn Cayley
UXBRIDGE -- Late last year a group of local residents travelled north to a remote First Nations reserve to lend support to a downtrodden community and teach some hockey skills to its youth in the process.
The 10-person Hope Through Hockey team featured six current or former members of the Uxbridge Tigers boys’ hockey club. While in Weagamow, a North Caribou Lake First Nations community located some 300 kilometres north of Sioux Lookout, the group helped bring a little hope and happiness to an area short on both.
They spent time teaching hockey skills and life skills to a community that has been ravaged by untimely deaths relating to suicide, accidents and other preventable causes in recent years.
Earlier this month, the new leader of Weagamow, Chief Swanson Kenequanash, made the trek to Uxbridge to say thanks.
“We’d like to thank you, Uxbridge, for all you have done,” Chief Kenequanash said. “Our young people need help ... and the moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas.
“In the community, I hear (people talk) about what you did. I hear it. Again, I say thank you.”
Chief Kenequanash added that the happiness, hope and help with hockey brought to his community by residents of Uxbridge was much needed.
“Its very tough when you live in a remote community,” he said.
“We have gone through quite a bit and when you hear about what we’ve gone through, you only hear bits and pieces. The last five years we’ve lost quite a few of our people ... and we’ve lost them through suicide, drug overdose and some we can’t explain how they died.”
In 2012 alone, says Chief Kenequanash, 23 community members died and only three of those deaths were deemed natural.
Weagamow is a community of just 900 people -- meaning those 20 preventable deaths represented a significant blow.
“We’ve been hit really hard,” he said. “And when something happens across the community we all feel it.”
Chief Kenequanash brought his wife and two children with him on his tour of Uxbridge. During the visit they toured the local high school and the arena, among other places.
Uxbridge’s work with Hope Through Hockey and the chief’s subsequent visit to town won’t be the end of the relationship between the two communities.
Rather, it’s just the start, according to Don Simmonds, who spearheaded Uxbridge’s efforts in Weagamow and arranged for the chief’s visit to town.
“Really what we’re building is a friendship between Uxbridge as a community and the community of Weagamow,” said Mr. Simmonds. “When you think of the term friendship, you think of your best friend.”