Story by Brock Ormond

Photo: Ed McPherson/OJHL Images

Remembering and educating past Indigenous history was the mission behind a fundraising game by the Wellington Dukes on Sunday.

The team welcomed several members of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte to Lehigh Arena for its first annual Every Child Matters event against the Caledon Admirals.

Executive director of the TTO (Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na) Language and Cultural Centre Callie Hill said this movement was tied to the residential school era.

“It came about years ago by a woman who attended a residential school and her orange shirt was taken from her when she came to the school,” Hill explained in an interview prior to the game.

That was reflected in the orange jerseys the Dukes’ wore for the game, which were available for fans and supporters of the players to bid for in a hybrid auction.

Fundraising proceeds included a portion of advertising sales in the current issue of Total Sports Quinte Magazine, along with part each paid ticket to the game and other monetary donations.

Every Child Matters merchandise, including orange t-shirts, were for sale and fans made donations and painted rocks for the Every Child Matters Memorial Wall located at Mohawk Plaza in Deseronto.

Hill explained the proceeds from all these initiatives are going to support the building of TTO’s own Language and Cultural Centre on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

Recent renderings of the building were on display in the Lehigh Arena lobby for people to look at.

Dukes Director of Sales and Marketing Kelly Martin stated the partnership with the Every Child Matters charity came into formation thanks to fan and business owner Richard Sager of Sager Pellets and Recycling, who approached the team with the idea and ended up sponsoring the game.

“We were on a bit of a crunch for a timeframe and we had three days to get these jerseys designed and ordered,” she said.

“We had people wanting to purchase them from coast to coast. Mr. Sager ended up purchasing more that will be available online following the game.”

The jerseys featured “honour and remember” on the bottom, with the MBQ’s colours and crest above.

It was an extra special day for two of the Dukes, as forward Jaxen Boyer and defenceman Creo Solomon both represented the Mestis heritage.

“It means a lot for me and my family,” stated the Trenton-born Boyer in a media release.

“It’s finally shedding some light on the native struggles. It’s good for people to start to recognize what we have gone through in the past.”

Solomon, who won gold at last year’s National Aboriginal Hockey Championship with Team Ontario in Nova Scotia, echoed Boyer in stating the event was a big deal for him and his culture.

“I just go out there, play hard and show them you can be a great hockey player with Indigenous heritage,” he remarked.

“Going out there and work hard is really my biggest thing so hopefully if any kids see that, that’s what they’ll take away from those games.”

Some of Boyer and Solomon’s teammates, including Stirling’s Lucas LaPalm, as well as a few of the Admirals players, showed solidarity by putting orange tape on their sticks.

Some of the dignitaries on hand joining Hill and the Dukes for a ceremonial puck drop were Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Chief R. Don Maracle, MPPs Todd Smith (Bay of Quinte) and Ric Bresee (Hastings-Lennox and Addington), Prince Edward County mayor Steve Ferguson and child athletes from the Mohawk Territory.

Mohawks of Bay of Quinte lady singers, led by Laura Maracle, sang the original song “Skén:nen” (Peace) from Bear Fox of Akwesasne as part of the opening ceremonies, then entertained the fans with some traditional music in the first intermission.

Though it won’t happen overnight, Hill said she hopes this event plants the seeds for a much deeper relationship between the communities of Tyendinaga and Prince Edward County.

She added it will also help people understand the hardships the Indigenous went through at residential schools and day schools in the past.

“I would invite anyone that is interested in wanting to know more to get hold of someone from our organization, or even the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte band office,” she said. “We’re all very much wanting to help educate the wider public in all things Indigenous.”

Martin said the event got a large response from key groups such as Hockey Indigenous and Every Child Matters Canada.

The fans were treated to a thrilling game, with the Dukes’ pulling out an 8-7 double overtime win over the Admirals.