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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
Stories
Introduction
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)

 

The healing power of hockey

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by Patti Gower
The Globe and Mail, November 7, 2001

Part 1 of 6: 'More than a game'


Cape Breton The final words of O Canada as it's sung in Cree are still reverberating in the rafters when the arena's overflow crowd begins hurling the high-pitched invective that every junior hockey travelling to northern Manitoba has come to dread.

"Hey, loser!" a big man from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN) shouts at the visiting goalie, Reg Legace, from Winkler in Mennonite country, a seven-hour drive to the south. "Faggot!" adds a man from The Pas, a dreary mill town across the Saskatchewan River from the reserve.

"Pull yourself before it's too late!" yells "Mouse," another native man who is perched behind the Winkler net and hammering the glass with a puck in a bid to throw Legace off his game. Mouse is also the goal judge.

The verbal deluge seems to work. Less than a minute into game two of the provincial finals, the home team's star forward, Justin Tetrault, a Métis, takes a pass from captain Terence Tootoo, who is Inuit, and blasts it home.

Before Mouse can flash the red goal light, the Gordon Lathlin Memorial Centre is shaking with the sound of air sirens, noise makers and the woodsy voices of 1,248 people from two communities that once were the most racially divided in Canada. To the sounds of Bachman Turner Overdrive - You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet - the Crees, Métis, whites and the odd Inuit embrace in the stands, and on the ice.

For the next two hours, the modest native-owned arena overlooking The Pas will rock with delirium as the Opaskwayak Cree Nation Blizzard trounce the Winkler Flyers and build a commanding lead in their run for a third straight provincial championship - a feat not seen in Manitoba in nearly 30 years.

But in the racially mixed stands, most people know that the Blizzard's sudden dominance is about much more than hockey. In this isolated town and reserve, which straddle the Saskatchewan River 600 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, the team has built a bridge that people once thought impossible.

It was near the site of the arena site, 30 years ago, that a Cree woman named Helen Betty Osborne was murdered after being sexually assaulted by men from The Pas.

The horrible crime was followed by one of the darkest periods for race relations in modern Canadian history, as the entire population of The Pas joined in a notorious conspiracy of silence. For an entire decade, townspeople who knew the killers refused to identify them. Finally, one of the attackers, unable to bear his guilt any longer, went to the police.

Only one generation later, the native-owned Blizzard has used a mixed-race team and integrated home crowd to start a new chapter for both the town and reserve.

"I really believe it was the hockey club that bridged the divide," says Gary Hopper, mayor of The Pas, which is one of the Blizzard's top corporate sponsors. "When the team was announced, people bought season's tickets [he has two] and all of a sudden there was white sitting beside native, a total mix, and new friendships developing."

Amazingly, he says, "You would be hard pressed to find two communities that get along better."

Although only five years old, the Blizzard has left its mark on the record book, trouncing established clubs from the south game after game. Before the 2001 playoffs, it won 50 of its 60 regular season games with players from so many communities that its coach calls it "the United Nations of hockey."

It is also one of the struggling Manitoba Junior Hockey League's few financial successes. Not only does the team sell out most home games, its bruising style of hockey packs so many arenas on the road that it has been credited with saving a league that, ironically, once ostracized Cree players.

In wins, pennants and box-office receipts, the OCN Blizzard may be the most most successful new sporting franchise on the Prairies. Which may be the reason people still wonder, when the hugs and high-fives are finished, why Perry Young killed himself.

THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 6):

Photo Essay
A Sporting Chance


1. More than a game
Bridging the community after Helen Betty Osborne's murder

2. The Blizzard calms a racial storm
OCN emerges from a murder looking forward

3. 'The Pride of OCN'
The tragic life of Perry Young

4. The subtle differences
Talent isn't the problem, one coach says, but discipline

5. 'There isn't a white way of passing'
Two communities look for ways to work together

6. Home to a feared Champion
The Cree Nation is no longer an easy target for racists


 
 

interactives
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Two worlds - photo essay


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