Hockey may bring people together in First Nations across Canada, but in Daniel Martinhunter’s case, the sport helped him meet a son he hadn’t seen in 29 years.

The Chisasibi resident had never forgotten the boy who left with his mother to move to Ontario after a separation almost three decades ago. With his daughters’ help navigating the Internet, Martinhunter discovered that his son, now named Cory Holland, was a pro hockey player in the North American Hockey League.

“So around March we decided to go down to Montreal to the Bell Centre,” Martinhunter recounted. “That’s where we first saw him.”

Holland, a right winger with the Sorel Mission, was in town to play the Verdun Dragons. He couldn’t play due to an injury, but the chance to meet his biological father and get in touch with his Native past was overpowering.

“My mom and dad separated and my mom remarried – that’s why I never pursued my Cree heritage,” explained Holland. “I always knew about my dad and he always knew about me, that’s what made us come back together in the end.”

After a brief meeting his first night in town March 11, the two went for a long supper at a St. Hubert restaurant the next evening. “We hung around together until midnight,” said Martinhunter. “I was so nervous at first because I thought he wouldn’t want to see me but he was very happy when we finally met.”

Martinhunter also introduced Holland to his 12-year-old brother, Danny. “He was very happy when he saw him.”

Martinhunter plans to give his son a Cree version of the prodigal’s son’s return. “We’re planning a welcome party for Cory in Chisasibi when he arrives. I want him to try the goose cooked in the open fire (sigbon) with the bannock on a stick, I also want to take him out in the bay, show him how we hunt and fish. I’m very happy that we finally met and my children and relatives cannot wait to meet Cory. I told him when you come up here you won’t want to go home right away. It’s nothing compared to the city,” said Martinhunter.

Cory Holland can’t wait. “I’m very happy that my father contacted me and I’m very eager to go visit my relatives and see the way they live their lives, their customs,” he said. “After all, they’re still my family and that’s where I’m originally from, too.”

Holland had little exposure to Native culture growing up in Havelock, Ontario. “Where I’m from in Ontario, there aren’t many Natives,” he noted. “But for sure I identify myself as a Cree. I’ve never been ashamed of that and that’s the reason why I wanted my story to go in the Nation. It’s actually a great story meeting my Dad after 29 long years of being apart and to get this opportunity to go up to Chisasibi to meet these wonderful and interesting people.”

Holland’s hockey career has taken him all over North America. This year was his ninth playing professional hockey, with four years in the U.S. and five years in Montreal and Quebec. In junior, he was drafted by the Oshawa Generals.

It’s been suggested that Holland coach a hockey school in Chisasibi this summer, but he unfortunately had prior job commitments. “But I would love to go up there and help the kids,” said Holland. “I also heard there’s a nice arena up in Chisasibi, I would love to check it out.”