Hockey players from across the region are hitting the ice at Fort William First Nation arena this week for the second annual Anemki Unity Winter Classic.
The four-day tournament began Monday, and includes 17 teams from Fort William First Nation, Thunder Bay, and regional communities, including Cat Lake First Nation. Divisions range from tyke to midget.
“Fort William First Nation council wanted something for their kids to do out here for the March Break,” said Larry Busniuk,assistant tournament director, speaking of the tournament’s inception.
And the theme, again, is unity, and “trying to mix the kids up,” he said. “The non-Indigenous and the Indigenous kids, playing together, to come together in unity, and have fun.”
Busniuk said team registration fees were waived this year, thanks to a $5,000 donation from Laborer’s International Union of North America Local 607. And this year’s tournament will include Special Olympics basketball and floor hockey games, as well.
The Anemki tournament, Busniuk said, has trouble competing with the Little NHL tournament, which is held at the same time each year in southern Ontario. This year, more than 200 teams from Indigenous communities across Ontario are taking part in the Little NHL tournament.
“We’re looking at maybe trying to do a couple different things for the coming years,” Busniuk said. “We’re going to maybe look at changing the date so we’re not competing with [the Little NHL], to grow this tournament a little bit.”
This year’s tournament runs until Thursday.