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Flin Flon hockey camp hoping to build bridges a year after ‘shoot a Indian day’ Facebook posts

The director of the Shoot to Score Hockey Camp in Flin Flon believes it can help unite players of all backgrounds following a series of social media posts last year.

Instructors discuss drills with youth during an on-ice session at the Shoot to Score Hockey Camp in Flin Flon in August 2018. (Tom McDermott)

The director of a Flin Flon hockey camp who says enrollment was affected by Facebook posts directed at First Nations people last year wants to use the camp to help deal with the lingering effects of the incident.

Tom McDermott oversees the Shoot to Score Hockey Camp held in Flin Flon’s Whitney Forum each August.

The school is owned by former NHLers Reggie and Jamie Leach, with involvement from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

On July 29, 2018, following reports of mischief to vehicles and property in Flin Flon, a series of posts made on Facebook  included mentions of a ‘shoot a Indian day’ and a ’24-hour purge’. RCMP called the posts “hateful and threatening language against residents of First Nations communities.”

Two women in Flin Flon and another in Denare Beach, Sask., were charged with  uttering threats and public incitement of hatred.

McDermott said those social media posts came to light less than two weeks before last year’s camp opened. Ten kids who were registered to attend ended up not coming because the recreation director of their northern Saskatchewan First Nation feared for their safety.

“‘I am afraid for my kids to go over there, for their lives, because they want to shoot the Indians over there. I’m not bringing my kids there,'” McDermott said he was told.

‘Still afraid’

McDermott said he and his administrative assistant tried explaining it was safe and there was no need to worry, but he said the rec director was adamant he was not going to bring his kids “because he feared for those kids’ lives.”

“When somebody says, ‘You know, we’re going to go on a 24-hour killing Indian spree’, that does not really sit well with a parent coming into Flin Flon,” McDermott said. “And still today, those people are still afraid. They are still afraid.”

Posts saying ‘it’s time to have a 24 hour purge’ and ‘have a shoot a Indian day!’ have been denounced as racist. (Destine Spiller/Facebook)

McDermott said organizers initially weren’t sure if they were going to do the school again.

“Those are the effects and we’re still feeling those effects of that racial incident,” he said.

He wants to use the school to emphasize how the game unites players of all backgrounds for one cause.

“Race does not (matter) when you play the game,” he said. “It’s your buddy, it’s your brother, that you’re going to battle with.”

The Shoot To Score Hockey Camp went ahead in Flin Flon’s Whitney Forum in August 2018 despite the late withdrawal of 10 players over fears related to ‘hateful’ Facebook posts. (Brandy Bloxom Photography)

There were 18 non-Indigenous players of the 62 players who took part last year. McDermott said he would like to see more. He also hopes the fallout from last year’s incident spurs some conversations.

“We’re hoping that Flin Flon and Creighton, they realize what’s going on,” McDermott said. 

“The elephant is still there. Right? And it needs to be dealt with. We cannot shy away from this. We need to hit it dead on. We’ve got to have those frank discussions.”

‘Unfair characterization’ of Flin Flon

According to Flin Flon Mayor Cal Huntley, “Everyone is welcome in our community and everyone should feel safe in our community.”

Huntley called the incident “a very unfortunate and unfair characterization of the community.”

“Do I feel there was any real risk with regards to the verbiage the young ladies put out there? No, I don’t,” Huntley said.

When asked what had been done in the wake of the incident, Huntley said there was “no need to change the character of the community.”

“So there wasn’t the need to change anything structurally within the City of Flin Flon,” he said. “There was certainly a need to address the perception that had been created. And I think we’re working well at doing that.”

In terms of specifics, Huntley said Flin Flon is all about building relationships — whether it’s with government, First Nations people, Métis or business.

“We’re just continuing down the road that we were already going,” he said. “So there is no significant change in our behaviour as a municipal government or as a municipal community.”

Restorative justice

In January, the two accused from Manitoba participated in a “first-of-its-kind” mediation circle facilitated by the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

One of the suspects opted to be funnelled back into the regular court system, while the other indicated she would proceed with the restorative justice program.

A spokesperson for the band said that suspect had agreed to the terms and planned to follow through with the seven recommendations made by the elders and the community.

Those recommendations included staying away from social media, handwriting apology letters to be sent to news outlets through the RCMP, completing a culturally-appropriate anger management program with the band’s restorative justice staff and completing 80 hours of community service on a First Nation.

The Crown prosecutor handling the case of the co-accused from Denare Beach said her court proceedings had been adjourned multiple times for her to complete alternative measures.

In an email, Aaron Martens said, “By all accounts she has been sincere in her efforts to make amends, and has written a letter of apology to various elders and community leaders that was appreciated and very well received.”

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