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Hockey star raises First Nation awareness as cultural ambassador

by NationTalk on March 13, 2012558 Views

March 13, 2012

Former Philadelphia Flyers scoring ace Reggie Leach took on the role of cultural ambassador as a luncheon speaker last week to improve OMA members’ awareness of First Nations realities — An Ojibway and member of the Berens River First Nation in Manitoba, he grew up as the youngest in a family of 13 children in Riverton, Manitoba. . . . .

Many people are able to recount his exploits and successes on the ice. After being selected third overall in the 1970 National Hockey League entry draft, Reggie Leach went on to play 934 NHL games, score 381 goals and record 285 assists for 666 points. He is a Stanley Cup winner and a Conn Smyth Trophy winner. In the 1975-1976 season, he scored 61 goals in the regular season before netting 19 goals in 16 playoff games — 80 goals in one season.Fewer people may know about his growing up through a childhood of relative poverty. He didn’t start to skate until he was 10 and he did not have his own pair of skates until he was 14. “I am always trying to give back and my life is now for First Nations kids and getting them going in the right direction,” said Mr. Leach.

He candidly admits to his personal battle with alcohol, which he has been winning since 1985. “I have learned from my mistakes and I want First Nation youth, who deal with drug and alcohol abuse, to not make the same mistakes I did,” he added.

In Ontario since 1999, there have been more than 90 mineral development benefit agreements signed between First Nations and mining companies. Mr. Leach’s candor and openness during his address and a great deal of time devoted to questions helped narrow any cultural divides. He provided the audience, which was predominantly mining industry executives, with a personal and first-hand glimpse of First Nation society, its successes and its vast potential along with some challenges.

While Reggie Leach, who is now 62, has been out of the NHL for a number of years, he is still trying to score points with Aboriginal youth. He resides on Manitoulin Island and he now spends a great deal of his time meeting with Aboriginal youth across the country to encourage them to work hard and achieve their goals. “I want them to know that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything you want.”

Through his “Shoot to Score” hockey schools and motivational speaking engagements, he strives to be a positive role model for Aboriginal youth. He explained that these hockey programs are not just about skill development on the ice. They are about life choices and helping young people believe they can achieve their dreams and ambitions.

While his hockey honours would include induction into the Manitoba Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame, perhaps his most treasured accolade lies in having received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 2008. Last month, NAAF changed its name to Indspire – “Indigenous education, Canada’s future.” “Also being a First Nation person, it was a great honour for me to be a member of Team Canada in 1976,” said Mr. Leach. “To represent Canada was special for me as a First Nation person.”

Mr. Leach was happy to share his mining links with OMA members. He spent his junior hockey career with the Flin Flon Bombers for four years until 1970. HudBay Mining (then the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company) was the main supporter of the local junior hockey team. “HudBay sponsored the team and provided jobs for the players,” he said.

Though we are not sure Mr. Leach shares the mining section of his resume with all audiences, he provided welcome and insightful comments. A concluding thought in his speech was “I hope you are successful in working with First Nations, successful with your business and successful in providing opportunities for First Nations youth.”

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