For kids who were watching their first live professional football game, they sure didn’t look out of place.
Approximately 70 screaming and cheering youth from Mistissini descended on the city of Ottawa October 8-10 to attend an Ottawa Renegades CFL game.
The trip included tours of the national capital and was a resounding success, according to Gordon Hudson, one of the organizers of the excursion.
“It’s been a completely positive experience. These kids have had smiles on their faces since they got here Friday night,” said Hudson, who was working his last day as the human relations officer for social services in Mistissini after being transferred to Ouje-Bougoumou.
“Whenever you can put kids aged six to 14 on a bus for 10 hours and when they arrive they still have those smiles on their faces, you know they’re having a good time.”
The event, aptly named “Paopao’s powwow” after Renegades coach Joe Paopao, was organized following this summer’s football camp in Mistissini. The August 10-12 camp with Paopao and a number of Renegades coaching staff attracted a large number of participants of all ages.
Hudson told the Nation that when he saw the success of the football camp, he knew it couldn’t end there. “I started calling soon after the camp and that was when Joe Paopao invited us to come down. These kids got such a positive experience that they’re still feeling the effects from it and I wanted to keep the ball rolling.”
It wasn’t a free ride, however. In order for the children to attend, they had to keep up in their schooling, including attendance, and do positive things in the community.
“We visited the university and they were given a tour and after it was over I asked them “who wants to come to university now?” and every one of the kids put their hands up,” he said.
Hudson mentioned that in the future some of the other communities are talking about being a part of something like this, but it’s still in the early stages.
While in town, the kids visited the New RO television station and had dinner with Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli.
The entourage was joined by Mistissini Chief John Longchap, who was very happy with the experience.
“I think it means a lot to them,” Lonchap said. “For some of them it’ll be a once in a lifetime experience and I think it’s something they’ll look back on as they grow up. It has opened their eyes to what’s out there and what they can pursue in the future. I hope that the rest of the Cree Nation gets to experience this at some time in the future.”
Willie Trapper, 11, said that he enjoyed coming to the big city and that the football game was his favorite part.
Willie Jimiken, also 11, said that he might like to play football, but there’s no team to play on in Mistissini and he wished there was.
The only drawback to what was a great night saw the Renegades losing 32-25 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“The kids are enjoying themselves and I find it pretty nice for them to be smiling,” said another one of the organizers, Ashley Iserhoff. “With the social problems and what a lot of the kids go through in the community, to see them laugh and smile it’s something they’ll keep with them forever.”
“There’s a lot of interest now with the young kids in different sports and this was one opportunity for a guy like Joe Paopao and the Renegades to come up to Mistissini and give them that push,” he said, adding that getting a league going within the Cree Nation is a goal for next year.
“[With an event like this] they know that people care for them and support them. Hopefully this will push them to continue on in school and achieve whatever goals they have in life.”