The City of Markham has secured the opportunity to host the 2024 Little Native Hockey League (LNHL) tournament, cultural festival, and gala celebration.
This annual tournament, held during the March break, brings together approximately 3,500 young male and female players from First Nations communities in Ontario, accompanied by their families, friends, and avid spectators.
The significance of the 2024 edition lies in its celebration of the tournament's 50th anniversary.
The history of the LNHL is rooted in a desire to combat anti-Indigenous racism that excluded First Nation players from mainstream hockey tournaments.
In 1971, five individuals decided to create a hockey tournament in Little Current, Manitoulin Island, to provide First Nation children and youth with an opportunity to play. Over five decades later, the LNHL has grown to include approximately 200 teams with 3,500 participants. Many LNHL alumni have gone on to play hockey at various levels, including the National Hockey League.
Mary Creighton, director of recreation services in Markham, shares the vision behind Markham's involvement in hosting the LNHL event. Markham's aspiration is to provide “our Ontario First Nation children an opportunity to play hockey and represent their communities."
Creighton emphasized the significance of this event as a unifying force. "These are many communities coming together," she says. "Many communities that do not have an opportunity to meet on any regular basis except during the tournament.”
The LNHL's vision is clear: to allow Ontario First Nation children the opportunity to play hockey and represent their communities. Its mission is equally important — to lead, develop, and promote a positive hockey experience while instilling the values of fair play, sportsmanship, and respect for all citizens.
Markham's commitment to Truth and Reconciliation is a critical component of its bid. The city has demonstrated this commitment through various actions, including a 2017 Agreement of Cultural Collaboration with Eabametoong First Nation, a remote northern First Nation community. This unique agreement enables collaboration and learning between an urban municipality and a First Nation community.
While the LNHL is primarily a sports tournament, the host community must ensure the celebration of First Nation culture is integrated into every aspect of the event. This aligns with Markham's diversity strategy and action plan, emphasizing the importance of cultural inclusivity.
Hosting the 2024 LNHL tournament, cultural festival, and gala celebration has received support from both the City of Markham and Destination Markham. A significant economic impact is expected, with projections indicating millions of dollars benefiting the community. This economic boost includes hotel stays, transportation, restaurant visits, retail purchases, and more. Families travelling from long distances often take the opportunity to make substantial purchases in the host city, providing a significant economic stimulus.
The commitment from Destination Markham to support the direct costs of up to $500,000 and an in-kind cost of $50,000, in addition to the City of Markham's in-kind support of $360,000, demonstrates the strong partnership between the two entities.
The bid package highlighted various aspects, including hockey operations, accommodation, gala celebration, and opening ceremonies. Markham has secured commitments for ice time, accommodation, and event venues. Notably, the opening ceremony will be reimagined as an outdoor event, showcasing Markham's experience in hosting outdoor winter events.
Markham's dedicated commitment to hosting the 2024 Little Native Hockey League tournament, cultural festival, and gala celebration underscores its unwavering dedication to inclusivity, cultural reverence, and fostering economic prosperity. This event is poised to be an iconic celebration of Indigenous culture and youth hockey, fostering unity among communities and creating cherished memories for all involved.
Connor Simonds, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Markham Review