By Mervin Brass

(Ochapowace First Nation) It’s a Tuesday afternoon and about 16 students from the Kakisiwew Hockey Academy fly up and down the ice at the Chief Denton George Memorial Multiplex.

Ochap Margaret Bear

Chief Margaret Bear (right) believes the new arena will help build relationships with the surrounding communities.

At the same time about 100 people in the adjacent auditorium gather to talk about Treaty and Inherent rights.

And in the kitchen, staff are washing pots, pans and dishes after serving a hot meal to the students and the visitors attending the conference.

When the Ochapowace First Nation planned their new arena, they knew the complex had to be a multi purpose facility.

It’s home to a 1,500 seat hockey arena, a community hall, a walking track, a fitness centre and has a kitchen that can cater to large events.

It also has a teepee area for cultural and spiritual ceremonies.

Out of the ashes

On the morning of March 31, 2011, a fire broke out at the 26-year old Fred Bear Communiplex on the Ochapowace First Nation.

The inferno destroyed the structure and left the community in shock.

Witnesses say the fire started after a backhoe ruptured a natural gas line.

The rink was the heart of the community where people gathered to play and watch hockey, attend other events that include family gatherings, feasts, wakes, funerals and the bingo.

Not long after the fire, people from the community started to talk about building a new arena.

“It was kind of bittersweet. It was shocking but it also served notice about how important something like that is and you don’t really miss it until you don’t have it,” says Morley Watson, general manager of the Chief Denton George Memorial Multiplex. “The people said rather than sit around and talk about what we lost, let’s start planning for what we’re going to have.”

The community planning meetings were well attended, says Watson.

“People came forth with a lot of ideas like a swimming pool, a curling rink, things like that,” says Watson. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t do everything, we realized we just wanted to have a hockey rink and look 40 years ahead. It may seem big right now but in 20 years time it might be just the right size.”

When it came time to find the money to build the new arena, the Ochapowace First Nation had the resources needed to build the project.

“We listened to what our band members wanted and put our own financial package together,” says Watson. “We’re pretty proud to say not a nickel of provincial or federal money went into our community. We paid for it all ourselves.”

Chief Margaret Bear says the band invested about $16M to build the multiplex.

“The late Chief Denton George always thought of the young people creating opportunities for them,” says Bear. “This facility was built as a result of that; it’s an opportune way we can develop our children so that they can be healthy with a positive alternative to their lifestyle.”

Ochap shannia Leggot

Shennia Leggott helps out the younger girls at the Kakisiwew Hockey Academy. She says the arena keeps the kids busy on Ochapowace.

Ochap CDGMM

The Chief Denton George Memorial Multiplex replaces the Fred Bear Communiplex that was destroyed by fire in the spring of 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sports Academy

“I think the self confidence is a big thing,” says Brad McEwen, the director of the Kakisiwew Hockey Academy.

McEwen is well known in hockey circles. He also works as a scout for the Calgary Flames.

McEwen worked with the Kakisiwew School to develop the Kakisiwew Hockey Academy.

Students from the school come over to the arena every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon to participate in the hockey and volleyball academy.

“There’s models out there that we kind of mirrored, we’ve included some different things that are more unique to our situation,” says McEwen. “Our vision and mandate is number one, discipline, commitment and respect those qualities is our philosophy. In order to come over to the arena and be a part of the program, the teachers sign off with those qualities and those things in mind.”

McEwen says he’s noticed a change as the students are more engaged in the program.

Ochap Tim Bear

Ochapowace Nation Councilor Timothy Bear proudly gave Treaty 4 News a tour of the Chief Denton George Memorial Multiplex​. He says the facility is really important to the community especially to the young people.

Timothy Bear, Ochapowace band councillor, adds there is a volunteer component to the program.

“They have to volunteer at some sort of level whether it be Elders, Junior B, Senior,” says Councillor Bear. “The kids’ attitudes have changed and this gives them something to look forward to.”

And having the new multiplex has made the program even more beneficial to the students.

“The amount of things we can do with the facility, the track, the gymnasium, it’s really an all encompassing program. We always have an off ice component to our regular day, It really enhanced the program. It’s unbelievable what the facility has done for it.”

“It’s just a wonderful thing for the reserve to have, there’s lots of things going on here,” says Shennia Leggott.  She helps the younger girls with their hockey skills at the academy. “This program helps the young people stay out of trouble, helps them with their schooling. They have somewhere to go and something to do.”

The hub of the community

The Ochapowace First Nation has not yet had an official grand opening of the Chief Denton George Memorial Multiplex.

But that hasn’t stopped the management from booking events such as exhibition hockey games between the SJHL’s Mellville Millionaires and Yorkton Terriers, the MJHL’s Opaskwayak Cree Nation Blizzard and the Waywayseecappo Wolverines.

A couple of teams from the Western Hockey League that have an Ochapowace connection stopped in on their way to Brandon to practice in the facility.

“One with the Seattle Thunder Birds, that being Ethan Bear,” says Morley Watson. “The Prince George Cougars, that being Kirk Bear.”

Watson says the Thunderbirds skated with the kids for a good hour and a half, signed autographs and took pictures. That was good for the community, he adds.

As soon as school is done for the day the rink is busy with hockey practices, skating programs and hockey games.

The kitchen is open for business and the people arrive.

“We offer the use of it to our neighbour communities as needed. I feel it’s a good way to establish positive relationships our local First Nations, local towns and communities,” says Chief Bear. “Actually it is the hub of our community like the previous rink has been where the people come together.”

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