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Indigenous Australian hockey team travels to Calling Lake

Jan. 13 event a once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange tour for both communities
CALLING LAKE –  Ice hockey players from Australia’s first Indigenous ice hockey program, the Kaurna Boomerangs, arrived in Canada on Jan. 10, to make their international debut. 

The team traveled to Calling Lake Jan. 13 to experience the hospitality of the Calling Lake Minor Hockey Association and the Woodland Cree of Bigstone Cree Nation and play an exhibition game, according to a press release from Ice Hockey Classics and United Sport and Cycle. 

“We are extremely honoured to host the first Indigenous hockey team from Australia,” Angela Lightning Manager of Calling Lake Recreation said. “We have planned an actioned packed three days, where they will experience fishing, snowshoeing, hockey training and many of our cultural experiences.” 

Some team members are as young as 13 and four wards of the state are traveling with the team, including 19-year-old Jasmine Taylor-Harding.  

“I will be representing children in child protection, indigenous youth and young women,” said Taylor-Harding.  

Taylor-Harding is one of two women on the team. At nine years old, she was removed from her home and placed in 40 homes over 10 years. She currently works for the Department of Child Protection and one day hopes to be the department’s minister. 

The Boomerangs emerged from the Ice Factor Program based in Adelaide, Australia, which was created 15 years ago to help re-engage disadvantaged students at risk of leaving school. Marie Shaw, a lawyer in Adelaide, put together the funding to make the trip become reality. 

How it began  

At age seven, Justine Shaw was diagnosed with dyslexia. She was very fortunate to have a supportive network yet for two more years she fell behind and suffered socially as she did not grasp the concepts of relevance and organization and found it hard to be part of a conversation constructively with her peers. 

When she was nine, she came across a movie called The Mighty Ducks and loved the story of kids going from the bottom to the top through teamwork and determination and it inspired her to ask her parents if she could play ice hockey.  

In the driest state, on the driest continent on the planet, she found her love of the cold. Hockey gave her focus, more awareness and for the first time, she was taking notice of what she was saying and doing.  

“On a hockey team you need to look to your teammates and support, as well as reflect on your own game,” Shaw said. “This was something that helped me immensely.” 

The improvement was vast and noticeable according to her mother, Marie Shaw who saw the improvement and knew that there had to be more kids like her. She knew that once they stepped out on the ice, none of it mattered. All that mattered was the game and the team, and that moment. Justine is completing a master's degree in Speech Pathology, focusing on kids with dyslexia. 

“None of this would have been possible without this game,” Justine added. “I will do everything in my power to pass on all that I have learnt from my mentors, to the next generation of girls and boys, who lean on this game the way that I did.” 

Kerry Goulet, director of the Australian Ice Hockey Classic and StopConcussions, has been instrumental in developing the program with Marie over the years and one of Goulet’s first engagements was with the NHLPA Goals and Dreams with thanks to Matt Langen and Devin Smith, for a donation of over 20 sets of equipment.  

When Marie Shaw first contacted Goulet in early October to see if there would be any interest in having the Kaurna Boomerangs play against Canadian Indigenous teams in early January — the first cultural exchange of its kind — the dream came alive. 

Goulet then contacted Wilf Brooks, a former owner of United Sport and Cycle in Edmonton. Brooks and Goulet then put together a once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange tour for the team from Down Under. 

During the trip 

The home base for the team will be in Edmonton. During their stay the team will have a welcome lunch sponsored by Boston Pizza, visit Maskwacis, amiskwaciy Academy, RCMP 'K' Division, West Edmonton Mall and skate on the Ottewell Community outdoor rink.  

The visiting players will also attend an Edmonton Oil King’s game courtesy of United Sport and Cycle and are hoping to attend an Edmonton Oilers game to complete their trip. The Oilers game is a very special event, as players will get a chance to see Ethan Bear, who was raised on the Ochapowace Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. 

Newly appointed commissioner of the Australian Ice Hockey League David Turik has shown his support by suppling 25 AIHL Scarfs and toques to the players who have never experienced Canadian winter temperatures.  

“When they step off the plane and the cold frosty north wind hits them, they will need some warming up. This is an important trip for not only the young players but for ice hockey in Australia,” Turik stated. “This will let people know around the world we have ice hockey and to recognize the great accomplishment of Nathan Walker playing in the NHL now.”