Hockey program advocates say Nunavik leadership made a bad call
"Losing this will be a big blow"
Staff, players and families involved with the Nunavik Youth Hockey Development Program say the findings of the program’s 2016 evaluation don’t fall in line with their own experience.
The 11-year-old hockey development program lead by former NHL player Joé Juneau was recently reviewed to see if it met the criteria for continued funding under Nunavik’s Ungaluk crime prevention fund.
The evaluation found parts of the NYHDP fell short on key criteria: crime prevention, community building and promoting school attendance.
That lead Makivik Corp. and the Kativik Regional Government to cut part of the program’s funding earlier this month—about $900,000, money that paid for the NYHDP’s select program.
“How do they not see?” said Jobie Jr. Kasudluak over the phone from the noisy Sikuluk arena in Inukjuak where he works as the program’s local logistics co-ordinator. “If this is gone, what will the kids have? Losing this will be a big blow.”
Over the two years he’s worked with the NYHDP, Kasudluak said he’s seen it draw about 100 local players and full teams for each category.
In recent years, the NYHDP has helped to groom a handful of select teams, the Nunavik Nordiks, whose players have gone on to win championships in southern tournaments.
But the program has also come under fire for its elitism and it academic requirements, motivating some Nunavik communities to launch their own hockey development programs.
Kasuluak said he’s not sure how an evaluation of the program failed to recognize the work the program has done to engage youth and keep them involved in school. The program helps youth develop not only the athletic skills to play the game, he said, but also social and life skills.
“I noticed the kids are disappointed they won’t be able to go south anymore,” Kasudluak said. “They seem to have lost motivation.”
Although there are other recreation programs in the Hudson coast community, Kasudluak said few have had the staying power of the NYHDP.
“We didn’t have this kind of program growing up,” he said. “These kids are very lucky.”
Kasudluak said he’s concerned the decision to cut funding to the program was a personal one, made by Makivik and KRG executives who take issue with aspects of the program.
Joé Juneau, NYHDP’s long-time coordinator, won’t speculate on the reason behind the decision but he believes the evaluation process fell short.
Juneau said the evaluation did not capture the program’s day-to-day activity; practices, training sessions, social events in between tournaments and classroom time.
Over last year’s select season, Juneau estimates the players spent about 135 hours on the ice and another 130 hours in class, time that wasn’t reflected in the review.
“It was based on interviewing people,” he said. “For me, if you say you’re evaluating a program, you need to be there. We have seen amazing progress so I cannot accept that the evaluation says our program hasn’t done anything for crime prevention.”
The program received a number of letters of support from players, their families, coaches and organizations outside of Nunavik, sent to Makivik and the KRG last month to consider in their decision on funding.
One came from Kyle Aitchison, a former NYHDP player from Kuujjuaq who is now studying in Montreal.
“The program not only developed my hockey skills, the structure of the program helped me to develop stronger social skills and to be a team player,” wrote Aitchison, who said he learned to eat well, exercise and live independently as a result of the program.
“The program provides a sense of belonging in a team setting while developing important life skills for youth who are facing very difficult challenges in all our communities.”
Juneau said the decision to cut the select program funding makes even less sense when he reads letters like Aitchison’s.
“If it’s about money they’d like to invest somewhere else, that’s fine with me,” he said. “But don’t come up with this [idea] that it doesn’t hold the road. It’s just not what we saw.”
Although Juneau co-ordinates the program largely from outside the region, he argues that the NYHDP has made major strides in laying the foundation for hockey programming in many Nunavik communities, led by local coaches and staff.
As a result, select teams have won 10 provincial tournaments over the last four years, he said, while a handful of players have gone on to play in competitive minor hockey leagues across Quebec.
But it’s up to Makivik and the KRG now to decide how the program should move forward, if it should include select teams and how they would be funded.
Juneau has been asked to sit on a new advisory committee struck to look at those options, but he said he hasn’t heard any details about when the group will meet.