The Cree Nation has had a presence in Ottawa for quite some time now. The Grand Council office is located there, Cree students live in and around the area while attending school and a number of Cree youth are making the trek to see the Ottawa Renegades an annual rite of fall.

For the second year in a row, 200 Cree kids, parents, chaperones and facilitators landed in Ottawa on October 29 to see their beloved Renegades take on the Montreal Alouettes in a Canadian Football League matchup.

“I think it completely lifts the kids’ spirits,” said Gordon Hudson, Director of Youth Healing Services in Mistissini. “Having the opportunity to travel from the north to Ottawa really enables the kids to dream of what could be when they move here for school. Maybe they will realize that there are a lot of opportunities for them here.”

There are plans in the works to bring football to Eeyou Istchee after last year’s game and the two very well-received Mistissini football camps that followed.

Hudson told the Nation that he is hoping to get a Cree Nation flag football team going, along with the collaborative efforts of the Aboriginal Sports Circle, Football Canada and the National Aboriginal Flag Football Committee.

Although he is not sure when it will get off the ground, Hudson is shooting to participate in the 2011 First Nation Summer Games. According to Hudson, there are leagues within Native communities across the country that enter all-star teams into the provincial competition every few years and compete for their province.

“The values and morals people get from sports far exceed what they can learn almost anywhere else,” he said. “It will be a great experience for these kids to be able to play football on a team.”

The air at the Frank Clair Stadium was electric with over 20,000 screaming fans helping to cheer on the good guys. Unfortunately for the Renegades, the Alouettes won 43-23, snuffing out Ottawa’s playoff hopes for the fourth year in a row.

“Afterwards I invited the players to supper and the whole team showed up,” said Hudson. “They enjoyed it very much, they mixed with the kids and really made themselves available for them.”

“We felt deflated after they lost, but as soon as Joe (Paopao) walked into the dinner after the game they gave him a standing ovation. Kids were hugging and kissing him, it was amazing to watch,” he said.

There was some sorrow when, not too long after the children left for their homes it was announced that Coach Paopao had been fired.

“It was sad, but Joe told me that there are other options,” said Hudson. “Our camp won’t be affiliated with the Renegades anymore, but we’ll follow Joe wherever he goes. If that means Winnipeg, then we’ll fly them up from there. Joe’s the focal point here.”

The Cree Health Board funded the whole trip, which cost almost $15,000.

He wanted kids to know that come February, they will be heading down to Toronto to see the Raptors play. He said that a similar trip was planned last year but funding fell through. He’s also trying to find a way to bring the Raptors to Eeyou Istchee next summer.