The Moose Cree First Nation will be the first Ontario community to have the privilege of having a child-development-based hockey program designed specifically for them through the Right to Play organization.

The deal between Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) through the province of Ontario will be a first for the communities and the organization in that Right to Play’s mandate is to improve the lives of children in disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace. This will be their first project in Canada.

In the summer of 2009, the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs began looking into initiative and infrastructure to develop hockey activities in the north and were looking for a public/private partnership to do so. The Ministry was either going to pay to repair existing facilities or build new facilities.

The only problem was that with facilities in place, there was still no guarantee that they were going to be maintained or that people would be using them without some variety of programming.

With this in mind, INAC sought out the Toronto-based Right to Play to see what kind of programming could be developed, since the organization has a “using sports for development” aspect to their programs.

According to Robert Witchel, Right to Play’s National Director, the government met with the organization numerous times and was impressed not only with their programming but that they were an organization that originated out of the Olympic Games.

Right to Play evolved out of an organization called Olympic Aid which started in 1992 prior to the Lillehammer winter games in order to show support for people in war-torn countries and areas of distress. At the time, the lead Athlete Ambassador was Norwegian speed-skater and four-time gold medalist Johann Olav Koss who wound up founding the organization after witnessing how children in war-torn Eritrea were without any resources for sport recreation. Right to Play was formally established in 2000 so that every child could learn and develop through sport and play.

“You really cannot develop fully as a human being unless you are physically active and involved in some sort of sport or play,” said Witchel.

Right to Play is not solely about kids learning games and getting a good workout, there is a much deeper level of sophistication to the programming they have developed. The organization has broken down the hundreds of games that they have into different “resources” and all of the games are based on experiential learning. Each of the games have a life lesson within the game so though the children might interpret it as fun and play, each game has been designed with some kind of an outcome.

“What we try and do is give kids a foundation upon which to make wise choices in their lives,” said Witchel.

The programming they are now looking to develop for the Aboriginal children of Ontario’s north is new territory for the group. They have developed programming around basketball, volleyball and soccer, but they have never had a hockey program. The organization will enlist the help of both the community and experts from across Canada to develop a hockey curriculum.

The community will also have a hand in how this program is developed by enlisting the aid of community Elders, members and educators to establish what the bigger issues are in the community for its children.

Though Right to Play was in the community to launch the program to start up community involvement they have not yet commenced their meetings with the Moose Cree to start the program development.

Witchel said they are excited to be working with the Moose Cree as their first community in Canada and that hopefully this program can be used as a blueprint for other Canadian Aboriginal communities.

For the time being the organization is working on developing local partnerships through a number of foundations and companies for support to get fully funded so that they can carry out their mission in the north.

According to Witchel, the first Canadian program should be up and running by the fall.