Sport, and more specifically hockey, has been an important part of Indigenous lives across North America long before colonization and it continues to bring our communities together today.
There are some instances where the effects of colonization can still be seen, however, even at the highest level.
Ted Nolan is this week’s guest on Face to Face.
Nolan is from Garden River First Nation in Ontario and was drafted by and played for the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
He also coached for the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders in the NHL, as well as the Latvian men’s national team.
Nolan also details some of the reasons he believes he has not coached in the NHL in nearly 10 years.
He said there is an inside group among hockey’s coaches and that left him feeling like an outsider.
“I was in it, I was coaching major junior hockey, I’d coached all-star games, I won the Memorial Cup, coached in the NHL but still wasn’t inside that group because my group was back home,” says Nolan.
“My group was back in Garden River First Nation, I couldn’t wait to get home in the summertime and spend time with family and friends and go to powwows and what have you but in there otherwise they go to hockey clinics, they go to coaching seminars, they have golfing events, they have all these situations that they do and if you don’t participate you’re kind of like an outsider looking in.”
Nolan talks about his story as a coach but his love for the game started years prior back on his home of Garden River.
“The way I start my story is people will think I was born in the 1800s versus the 1900s. We grew up in a very small house in Garden River First Nation outside Sault St. Marie and at the time we didn’t have indoor electricity or plumbing or what have you, we had an outdoor toilet and a pump. And I start off my story with kids, my tail always starts with one pail of water at a time.
“I just made a rink in my backyard, probably 40 feet by 20 feet, not the biggest rink but it was good enough to fall in love with the game. I made that when I was about 8 years old until I was 14 years old and that’s pretty much how I got my start.”
Nolan and his two sons Jordan and Brandon also started the 3 Nolan’s, a hockey camp that operates primarily in First Nation communities, and they have a clothing line selling items like t-shirts and hats to jackets.
He said working with his two boys is the best job he has ever had, and the lessons they teach are a direct result of the experiences they all faced.
“One day Brandon said ‘hey dad why don’t we do our own hockey schools, we’ll go to First Nation communities and help the way we can and maybe teach some of the stuff that we went through that maybe they could make that trail a little bit easier,'” says Nolan.
“So we’ve been doing it for a long time it’s probably one of the best, I wouldn’t even call it a job, it’s one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had to go into communities and not so much develop the next Freddie Sasakamoose or the next Brian Trottier or Geno Odjick, it’s just getting the kids to feel good about themselves through the sport.”