Sudbury Star Photo

One of the essential elements of my philosophy and a new way of doing business with Canada’s First Peoples is understanding and appreciating our values, needs and priorities. There is no greater priority than our children and youth.

While it is essential to keep your corporate eye on the prize – a.k.a. project success – it’s important to understand that First Nations, Métis and Inuit people may have very different needs, priorities and asks. Inevitably, the discussion may come to the subject of “community investment”.

Community investments are varying contributions of funding provided to indigenous communities to support programs or demonstrate support of a community’s socio-economic needs.

Investments that are often most receptive are those provided to children and youth programs. After-school programs, breakfast and lunch programs, playgrounds as well as support for libraries, IT and capital costs and maintenance of schools are needed in indigenous communities. However, support for youth sports will certainly endear your company to many people.

Case in point – the annual Little NHL hockey tournament.

Since 1971, the annual March Break classic has welcomed youth hockey teams from hundreds of First Nation communities across Ontario. Founded by former Mchigeeng (then West Bay) Chief Jim Debassige, former Whitefish River Chief James McGregor, Earl Abotossaway from Sucker Creek, Reverend Len Self and a cast of many other Manitoulin Island First Nations leaders and supporters, the Little NHL has been a childhood highlight and right-of-passage for tens of thousands of aspiring hockey players from tyke to midget levels. Little NHL (Native Hockey League) graduates include several past and present junior, college and professional hockey players, including NHLers.

LittleNHLThe Little NHL features over 2000 players and over 100 teams every year. It is also an incredible economic driver for past host cities like Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and for 2015 – Mississauga, Ontario. Having been the Chair of an Little NHL host organization, I know and appreciate the sheer amount of organization and volunteer power that it takes to put on such an incredible event.

However, the host committee always needs fundraising to pay for the facilities, overhead and amenities that welcome the players, parents and supporters that come to cheer on their home community. This year, the Little NHL is sponsored by Vale, Peace Hills Trust, Fischer-Wavy, TransCanada, WP Financial, TD, ILA Sports, Tourism Toronto, the City of Mississauga, Dreamcatcher Charitable Foundation, Village Chrysler, Nahwegahbow Corbiere Barristers and Solicitors, and the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. Those are just the headline sponsors. There are over 20 other specific event and media sponsors.

So the Little NHL host committee is well taken care of. Although, next year it all starts again.

Likewise, each individual community has to raise money to pay for practice ice time, jerseys, meals and hotels for their team contingent. Keep in mind, some communities have teams in each of the hockey divisions. That may means one community can field up to six teams.

Those companies who choose to invest in First Nation communities can provide much needed funding to their Little NHL efforts. Although it’s important to fund the host committee, Chiefs, Councillors, parents and families certainly appreciate sponsorship of individual communities, their organizing committee and teams.

The Annual Little NHL Hockey Tournament runs from March 15-19 at a number of hockey arenas across Mississauga, Ontario.