For a second year in a row, Crees have been barred from sending a Cree Nation team to play in the Midget AA Hockey League of Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
Crees went all out this year to get into the league, hiring a director of hockey development and offering to pay travel expenses for opposing teams playing in the Cree communities.
The league kept raising new conditions for the Crees to meet and each one was satisfied. The Cree team was also supported by the Regional Midget AA Federation. But on May 2, the league made its decision: The Crees were turned away.
“The entire Cree Nation has been anxiously watching over the Midget AA Franchise bid with great anticipation,” said Deputy Grand Chief Kenny Blacksmith and Thomas Neeposh of the Mistissini band in a press release.
“The Crees of Quebec have contributed in many ways to the various municipalities and to the economy of the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region for many years. There is no reason why the Crees should be excluded from the league.” So why were Crees turned down? “Personally, I think the whites are afraid of being beaten,” said Guy Nolet, who was president of the Regional Midget AA Federation last spring when the Crees made their latest application.
“I can’t see any other reason,” he told The Nation. “The Crees will have an excellent team. They are super-serious and have an excellent project.”
The federation sets the rules of the league, but can’t force it to accept or reject any team.
Nolet said the rejection of the Crees is especially strange because up until May, two of the league’s eight teams were from Ontario. “We told the league if you don’t accept the Crees, why do we have teams from Ontario? It’s not because we don’t like Ontario, but because the Crees are part of our region and we should favour our region,” he said. “We’ve always cohabitated with the Native people. The arrival of a Native team is important.”
The league responded to the federation’s concerns by expelling both Ontario teams from the league.
Nolet, who has been involved in minor hockey for 20 years, said negotiations between the league and the federation are now under way “to try and make them see good sense.” He said several mayors from the region have also called him to offer their help in changing the league’s mind. The league couldn’t be reached for comment.
“This league is the only one the Crees can play in,” said Stan Jones, director of Cree hockey. “We did everything right.
“You have to wonder if the exclusion is a form of racism. We had hoped that this Cree AA team would help out – not only in terms of sports for the Cree youth, but other benefits would be there, too. It would help create a better atmosphere between Crees and the other residents of Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Non-Crees would get to visit the communities and enjoy Cree hospitality. We looked for better relations.”