Ice Hockey unites indigenous youth
by Christian Pierre|27 FEB 2020
The Kaurna Booomerangs enjoyed a whirlwind tour in Alberta, Canada. 
Amidst all the international ice hockey activity this winter, with national youth teams facing-off against each other in arenas worldwide, a number of youngsters took to the ice with the goal of representing their country and sharing their cultural roots. 

Meet the ‘Kaurna Boomerangs’, an Australian indigenous team that traveled to Canada in January for a hockey tour with Canadian First Nations’ teams. 

The Boomerangs emerged out of the Ice Factor Program from Adelaide Australia. The program was created over 15 years ago by Marie Shaw, with the goal to help re-engage disadvantaged Aboriginal students at risk of leaving school. 

At age seven Justine Shaw, Marie’s daughter, was diagnosed with dyslexia. For two more years, she fell behind in school, suffering socially and finding it hard to take part in conversations with her peers. 

In the hottest state of the driest continent on the planet, Justine found her love of the cold thanks to a classic  Hollywood hockey movie. At age 9, she watched the ‘The Mighty Ducks’ and loved the story of kids going from the bottom to the top through teamwork and determination. She asked her parents if she could play ice hockey. 

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

Marie Shaw noticed this 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. 

In 2017, two past Ice Factor students contacted Marie Shaw and indicated that they wanted to form an indigenous ice hockey team. They found team members, designed their shirts, their team name and wrote a letter to the sponsors to assist in obtaining funding for equipment. The Boomerangs were born.

Justine, who is currently completing a Masters’ Degree in Speech Pathology, focusing on kids with dyslexia, served head coach of the Boomerangs during their Canadian tour. 

“None of this would have been possible without this game and 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.” 

The Kaurna Boomerangs Canadian Tour was a first-time cultural and ice hockey exchange between the two nations. One of the important parts of their different clan cultures was their dreaming or dreamtime stories that they shared with their Canadian counterparts. 

In a whirlwind tour, together the teams went to see an Edmonton Oilers home game, where they were recognized on the jumbotron and got to watch Ethan Bear who was raised on the Ochapowace Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. They even had a practice on the Rogers Arena ice as well. 

Besides visiting landmarks of the city like the world-renowned West Edmonton Mall and skating on the Ottewell Community outdoor rink, the team also travelled to Calling Lake in Northern Alberta to experience the hospitality of the Calling Lake Minor Hockey Association and the Woodland Cree of Bigstone Cree Nation.  

“We were extremely honoured to host the first Indigenous Hockey team from Australia. We planned an action-packed three days, where they experienced fishing, snowshoeing, hockey training and many of our cultural experiences, said Angela Lightning, Manager of Calling Lake Recreation. 

The group also visited the Four Bands Community of Maskwacis in Central Alberta for a cultural experience with the Plains Cree as part of their visit.

“It was an incredible experience exchanging indigenous cultural traditions,” says Justine Shaw. 

“The experience of having so much hockey surrounding us the whole time was surreal. In Australia, ice hockey is such a vague and obsolete concept and in Canada, it’s a religion. This was amazing for the team to experience because for them, they were treated like absolute rock stars. We would be recognized in malls, there were girls waiting outside the change rooms, waiting for autographs from our players. This was attention they have never received in their lives and they were made to feel so important. 

“It really was one of the most wonderful things to see as a coach, to watch them love their hockey and be loved for playing hockey.” 
Team Captain Michael Burgoyne (23) was struck by the huge temperature divide between the ‘Land Down Under’ and the ‘Frozen North’. “It’s definitely colder in Canada, especially during the time when we were over there with up to an 80°C weather difference,” he smiles. 

But he still savors the whole experience. “Just having the whole Edmonton Oilers organization recognizing us was excellent. Being on the big screen in front of a lot of ice hockey fans was so surreal and hard to take in knowing that nearly all of Edmonton knew who we were.”

The Aussies also experienced the fun of skating outdoors for the first time in their lives. 

Also Boomerangs’ Assistant Captain was impressed by the low temperatures taking him away from his comfort zone. “It’s a massive change in weather difference, our winters in Adelaide only really reach as low as 5 degrees. Compared to Canada’s -30! However, the outdoor rink game was amazing and is definitely something we don’t have the opportunity to do so in Australia,” said assistant captain Caleb Burgoyne.

“When meeting and playing against the First Nations teams in Canada we were able to compare and contrast between our two cultures and come together through that,” explains Assistant Captain Marko Komazec (18) the ethnic encounter of the hockey teams. “We saw that they also experience similar problems with disengaged youth as well as vast amounts of indigenous people in prison. But it’s sports like ice hockey that allows us to move away from situations like these and instead help the ones around us. We experienced this firsthand with the people of Maskwacis and being able to play ice hockey with them as well as meeting people, young and old.”

“My most memorable part of our Canadian trip was when we all went to Calling Lake,” remembers Jymain O’Neill (14). “We all enjoyed ourselves and we were all happy! To see everyone smiling felt so good. Also, just the fact that when those sliding doors opened and shut at the airport, how cold it was just felt like a million slaps to the face!”

The youngster has some smart advice. “My advice to young indigenous people who are interested in getting involved with ice hockey is: don’t hesitate. I'd say this sport is made to bring people together! If you don't take your chance you might just keep missing the rest."