Quite clearly and with no doubt, the Dryden Ice Dogs of the Superior International Jr. Hockey League are leaders relative to an Indigenous and First Nations spirit and presence within their program that includes no less than seven players and an assistant coach.
For starters, in a statement of acknowledgement on their team website, the Ice Dogs make it known — as a junior hockey franchise based in northwestern Ontario that operates and plays home games at Dryden Memorial Arena — that they “would like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe and Métis people of Treaty Three and Treaty 3 Adhesion. The Anishinaabe are the original caretakers of this land and called this place Paawidigong, meaning place of the rapids, which is now known as Dryden. This land is important to the people of Migisi Sahgaigan (Eagle Lake First Nation), Waabigonii Zaaga’igan (Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation) as well as the Métis people of the area and the residents of Dryden.”
As for the seven Indigenous players on the Dryden roster, they hail from five different Canadian provinces and one American state.
Defensemen Jackson Jacques and Chase Muswagon are both from Manitoba, Saskatchewan is the home province of defenseman Dayvan Bull, defenseman Tie Jacobs hails from Ontario, forward Nakoda Thunderchief has Alberta as his native province and forward Pineshish Whiteduck is from Quebec. Meanwhile, defenseman Lane Snell is from the American state of Kansas.
Notably, Jacques, Thunderchief and Snell are all among the top post-season points leaders for Dryden, which is currently in the second round of the SIJHL playoffs against the Red Lake Miners.
Jacques, Bull, Jacobs, and Snell are all eligible to return to Dryden next season while the other three will graduate from the junior ranks at the conclusion of this season and possibly move on to college or minor pro programs.
As well, Dryden assistant coach Andrew Perrault has First Nations roots.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION
Notably, as a league, the SIJHL became a trailblazer before the start of this season when it hired Trevor Iserhoff as the first ever director of diversity and inclusion in the nation wide Canadian Jr. A Hockey League.
It was SIJHL commissioner Darrin Nicholas who instigated the hiring of the 40-year old Iserhoff, who is a resident of the northwestern Ontario town of Kenora and originally from Moose Cree First Nation.
“There’s a huge Indigenous population in our part of the country that we draw players from. And we do have Indigenous players that find themselves onto our rosters,” Nicholas, as commissioner, pointed out.
Indeed, five of the SIJHL’s seven member teams are located in northwestern Ontario towns and a sixth is slated to be added next season when the Sioux Lookout Bombers join the league as an expansion club.
Besides being the league’s director of diversity and inclusion, Iserhoff also serves as the First Nations scout for the Kam River Fighting Walleye of the SIJHL. Kam River has six Indigenous players of its own in Trenton Morriseau, Trystan Goodman, Johnny McCollum, Collin Wiseman, Braeden Duchesne and Jonah Desrosiers. And co-owner Colin Campbell also has First Nation roots.
As for Iserhoff, he told Hockey News North that he is “honoured and humbled to be working with the SIJHL, the teams but most important, the players. The SIJHL along with the Canadian Jr. Hockey League are doing some special things that focuses on diversity and I am excited to be a part of it.”
Further, Iserhoff relayed to freelance writer Sam Laskaris that “it would just be good for everyone to be on the same page and learn as one and move forward and try to eliminate racism and stereotyping and all the prejudice that comes with it. Unfortunately, it is in hockey and I would love to see it gone from the game.
“I played the game,” Iserhoff added. “I am a minority and I am First Nations so I am able to understand.”