There is disappointment following the decision to move the Midget AA and AAA Blackhawks hockey teams away from Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation after this season. It is reportedly the only First Nations team in Canada located and operated by a reserve.
The Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) made the announcement last Tuesday.
Andy Bellegarde of Little Black Bear First Nation played with Beardy’s and Okemasis during the 1999-2000 season. He is also disappointed by the decision.
Bellegarde’s two older brothers played with St. Michael’s Residential School hockey team. He always knew he wanted to follow their footsteps and play with Beardy’s and Okemasis.
“I kind of traced my steps where they played, and I knew it was a good hockey calibre there because of the team,” said Bellegarde.
Bellegarde said he had other options when his opportunity came but thinks his experience would have been difficult to try make a different team.
Bellegarde has twin boys and a teenage stepson, who may not have the chance to follow their dad’s footsteps.
“For myself having kids, I would want them to go out there if they were good enough to get scouted, and go play AA or AAA, because that is a good organization to play for,” said Bellegarde. “It was challenging, but it was so worth it.”
“The league had 18 months to two years notice,” said SHA general manager Kelly McClintock. “As a board, we basically told the league that for the ’20-’21 season, there are no teams that are guaranteed a spot in the league and that all minor hockey associations in the province had the ability to apply for a team – as of Oct. 1.”
Tyrone Smallchild, councillor in charge of the sports and recreation in Beardy’s & Okemasis First Nation, has mixed emotions about the decision. The First Nation is about 80km north of Saskatoon.
“It would’ve been nice to keep the team,” said Smallchild, “On the other hand, it’s good that a team’s going down to Estevan.”
Smallchild remembered how hard it was for Indigenous hockey players to get further than the Saskatchewan Valley League in the 1980s.
“Having all the history built, and players that have gone through the system, it’s quite maddening,” said Smallchild.
The AA and AAA teams have been a part of the SHA for more than 25 years. This season has a lot of band members on the AA team, but less for the team in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League.