Nunavik hockey school stresses education, life skills
“It’s a great program, and it’s fun to see the kids smiling."
(UPDATED: JULY 20 2012 9:55 A.M.)
Three years ago, hockey consultant Stéphane Paquet moved out of the Nunavik village of Inukjuak for the southern comforts of Quebec City.
But the urge to go back to Inukjuak has been too great for Paquet to resist.
Inukjuak is where he started his professional career as a teacher, where he coached hockey, and connected to the community. He returns every year for two months to help run the Nunavik Hockey School in Inukjuak.
“It’s a part of my life. Once you stay here a few years, you cannot just quit. It’s a big part of my life,” said Paquet.
And it seems that the community feels he’s a big part of their lives as well.
The Makivik Corp. and the Kativik Regional Government support the NHS through the Ungaluk Safer Communities Program, which gives Paquet and other organizers the resources to run the program in different parts of Nunavik.
Ungaluk is the result of a 2006 deal with Quebec that traded the construction of a provincial jail in Nunavik for about $300 million, with Quebec paying Makivik and the KRG at least $10 million a year until 2030.
The Nunavik Hockey School is free to join for kids aged four to 18 who get practical on-ice training as well as meals.
Training isn’t just reserved for kids, however. The NHS stressed training Inuit adults on how to coach hockey.
“I think for me, Inuit people should take more lead instead of just the white people,” said Paquet.
“That’s why we want them to be more confident so they can take the lead and do their thing on their own instead of just waiting for [us] to do [our] thing and follow us.”
However crime, drugs, and alcohol are still problems in Inukjuak Paquet said. But he’s seen progress in his many years of dealing with the kids in the area.
“I think [parents] are really happy because we keep the kids busy. When kids are busy, they do less stupid things,” said Paquet, adding parents come up to him in the community and tell him the difference he’s made.
A record 150 kids joined the program this year, culminating in a community feast this past weekend for the whole town.
Joining them at the feast, and helping out with on-ice training and adding a few words of encouragement in Inukjuak over the weekend, was Montreal Canadiens forward Louis Leblanc.
He said it’s huge for NHL players to give back to communities, like Inukjuak, in the off-season.
“You just try to help out places, people. I play hockey and these kids go to hockey school, so it’s good to see people they look up to,” Leblanc said.
“It’s a great program, and it’s fun to see the kids smiling, and they’re having a good time — that’s the most important thing,” he said.