Former Canadian NHL player Jordin Tootoo was in the Peace on Wednesday to spend time skating with members of Blueberry River First Nation and share his message of inspired inclusivity and overcoming racism and addiction with the youth.
Tootoo spoke at the Taylor Community Hall for an hour, then signed autographs and took pictures afterwards before holding a free skate at the Taylor Arena. Tootoo spoke about his battle with alcoholism and addiction, and his relationship to the land where he grew up, in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.
Tootoo is eight years sober — while he did spend a month in rehab, he was also healed by simply being out in the country.
“After rehab, what healed me was being on the land, where my father was born. It’s the most peaceful time I have with him, when we’re on the land together,” said Tootoo.
He spoke about the peace he gets from being in the wilderness, and the importance of that to indigenous communities. Tootoo never played organized hockey until he was 14, when he left Nunavut and the reserve to play Triple-A bantam hockey with the Spruce Grove Broncos. There, he encountered racial slurs and bullying for the first time.
“I’m proud of who I am and where I come from," Tootoo said. "I didn’t take it personally when I was called racial slurs by NHL players. You can’t control what other people say about you and you must be proud of who you are.”
His message resonated with the crowd of 200.
“We were really excited to have (Tootoo) speak to our kids because we have had some kids who identify with his struggles," said Patsy Greyeyes, education manager at Blueberry River.
"He was saying that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, and if you work hard you can achieve anything, and that’s something our youth need to hear.”
Tootoo said part of what helped him overcome his battles was his Indigenous culture and how he was raised.
“People from indigenous communities are the mentally strongest people around. We know how to persevere through hardships,” Tootoo said, adding that it’s OK to show weakness and admit you need help.
Tootoo speaks often to Canadian indigenous communities through the Team Tootoo Foundation, founded in honour of his late brother, Terence.
Tootoo played 13 seasons in the NHL, eight with the Nashville Predators. He amassed 161 points in 723 games, and played his final season in 2016-17 with the Chicago Blackhawks. He lives in Kelowna with his family.
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.