Five Métis girls were invited to participate in the Edmonton Oilers U9 girls hockey camp this past summer, which was held July 24 and 28 in Edmonton.
The camp had two hours of ice time each day, with an Oilers player and Oilers Alumni member making special appearances.
The campers also had four specialty sessions in physiotherapy and concussion management, diversity and inclusion, yoga and nutrition.
Poet Kaiser, 6, was one of the girls chosen.
“My mom told me about the camp because I was entered in,” she said. “I was feeling super excited.”
Poet, who lives in Drayton Valley, has played hockey for a couple years. But she’d never been to a hockey camp before.
“I liked it a lot. I never knew the Oilers would play there,” she said.
“I learned to be a team,” Poet, a forward, added. “I made new friends. We made pen pals… I’m going to send notes to them in the mail.”
An all-female camp presented by the Oilers Hockey School isn’t something Poet would normally have the opportunity to attend, her mom said.
“It’s not something that I would’ve known about or even actually considered for Poet with her age and just how far away and rural we live,” Mandy Kaiser said.
She said she learned about the hockey camp on social media and her sister encouraged her to apply for Poet.
“It wouldn’t have been an opportunity I would have been able to give Poet. So, for them to have it and for Poet to be able to go there as a Métis — and not only the love of hockey, but also the love of her heritage — it was just a match. We were absolutely ecstatic.”
Mandy said this experience is one way to make hockey more accessible and welcoming.
“It’s giving these young Métis women and girls the opportunity to see there is no barrier, that they have these role models that they can look up to, that they’re able to know: ‘That’s within my grasp. That’s within my reach.’
“It gives them an arena to smash all those types of stereotypes, and also to be able to be looked upon based on skill, based on endurance, based on empowerment, instead of some of the traditional ways girls in sports are looked at.”
Five of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s 94 calls to action to help advance reconciliation address sport. They include calls to ensure sports programs are inclusive of Indigenous peoples, include diversity training, to reduce barriers to sports participation, and to ensure long-term Indigenous athlete development.
It’s about community, wellbeing, inclusion and tangible steps towards reconciliation, said Lorna Dancey, the Truth and Reconciliation director for Otipemisiwak Métis Government.
“We are looking for partnerships. We are looking for people who are interested in walking with truth towards reconciliation with us.”
Dancey said her team focuses on creating opportunities for healing and gathering in the community and she immediately thought of the Edmonton Oilers.
“I really just reached out to them… and they responded within 15 minutes. They’ve been amazing to work with.
“I also recognize that not all of our Métis community are exposed to the same privilege as we here in the city are and I really wanted to see if we could create a partnership that brings our Metis community into the privilege of hockey,” Dancey said.
The Otipemisiwak Métis Government and the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Group are in talks about hosting an Oilers Alumni Heritage Game.
“We believe that hockey has the potential to foster positive change both on and off the ice,” said Tim Shipton, executive vice president of OEG Sports & Entertainment, in a news release. “Sport can be a powerful vehicle for healing and strengthening relationships with Indigenous communities as we work together to advance reconciliation.
“We’re proud to partner with the Otipemisiwak Métis Government to help make hockey more inclusive.”
The hockey camp partnership is in its infancy, but Poet and Mandy would love to see it continue.
“Hockey is more than a sport in Canada; it’s this national identity,” Mandy said. “I came from a small community myself. It was a community builder. I feel like it’s a dream-maker. It’s kind of a rite of passage.
“As a Metis, and being able to represent Métis, it’s non-existent. So this is one of the first programs that I would say we need to hold onto and really push other corporations to put in these same types of programs to get female Metis and Indigenous groups from everywhere.
“Really look internally to see how can we make change… We — corporations and individuals — have the ability to make huge change.”
And now Dancey has her sights set on other partnerships and programs.
“We’re going to branch out to other organizations because we really want to provide our youth, our children, with the same opportunities that other children have,” she said.
“We keep saying that anything is possible, but we really need to help with those dreams. We need to be facilitators for our children and help them make their dreams come true.”