THE UNIVERSITY OF Ottawa’s Indigenous Health Group has been invited to participate in a program that uses hockey to encourage youth in northern Quebec to stay in school and learn important life skills. The group, which is part of the Department of Human Kinetics at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the U of O, will be partnering with the Nunavik Youth Hockey Development Program (NYHDP) and the Makivik Corporation on the project.
The NYHDP currently provides free, high-quality coaching to the young program participants in exchange for the youths’ commitment to school and community involvement. The program is managed in collaboration with Joé Juneau, a former NHL player and Olympian.
“How it works is that [Juneau] has selected four or five kids from each community in Nunavik, [northern Quebec]” said Hassan Saeed, a U of O master’s student in human kinetics involved in the project. “[The kids] come in to the camp, they are given school work to complete throughout the day and they are also skating twice a day and playing games by the end of the week.”
Juneau has played an influential role in NYHDP throughout its six years of existence, helping the program grow by adding additional girls’ teams. Following Juneau’s example, the U of O’s Indigenous Health Group hopes it can add an important dimension to help the NYHDP continue to develop.
“Our program has been working in indigenous communities for a decade, aiming to improve health disparities—in particular, focusing on the reduction of obesity and obesity-related diseases,” said Michael Robidoux, associate professor working on the project. “By forming this partnership, we are joining a program that has already achieved significant measures of success, and we intend to build on this by providing components that increase physical activity access and improved nutrition.”
While the project has many long-term goals, Robidoux explained, from the perspective of the Indigenous Health Group’s involvement with the program, there are three things they are hoping to witness.
“We would like to see … positive evaluation measures in terms of reduced obesity, improved academic performance, and positive youth development feedback as a result of participation in the NYHDP,” said Robidoux.
Professors Alexandra Arellano, Tanya Forneris, and François Haman from the Department of Human Kinetics will be joining Robidoux and Saeed in the project, offering their expertise in the fields of physiology, ethnology, sociology, and nutrition sciences. Additionally, master’s students Corliss Bean and Cédric Lafrance will be assisting in the research by travelling to the communities to complete fitness testing of the youth, and of course, to coach hockey.
“From a program standpoint, I was surprised at how amazing the kids are,” noted Saeed. “They are so focused and so disciplined and committed to hockey, but at the same time the academics. They work hard in the classroom and hard on the ice, which is a credit to them, to [Juneau], and [to] the program.”
Saeed explained it’s fun to see the youth enjoying hockey, but the importance of the program outside the rink shouldn’t be underestimated.
“At the end of the day, it is also teaching the kids how to be leaders and how to take things the right way, even if it is not the news you want to hear,” said Saeed. “There is more than just the sports side of things.”