UXBRIDGE: The Chief of a First Nations community in northern Ontario visited Uxbridge this past week to offer his thanks for the contributions of the Uxbridge community to the Hope Through Hockey program.
In December, a group of past and present Uxbridge SS Tigers hockey players travelled to Weagamow in northern Ontario for a week of hockey clinics with residents. This past week, Chief Swanson Kenequanash visited Uxbridge along with his family to further foster friendship between the two communities.
Upon arriving in Uxbridge on Thursday, April 3, the Chief and his family were taken on tours of Uxbridge Arena and Uxbridge Secondary School. As well, Chief Kenequanash spoke at the Uxbridge Baptist Church on Sunday, before appearing before council at their meeting on the morning of Monday, April 7.
"A relationship takes time and trust to grow, and they have a lot to teach us," said Uxbridge SS Tigers coach Don Simmonds, who played a key role in organizing both trips.
Appearing before council, Chief Kenequanash spoke of the damage done in his community recently due to substance abuse.
"We've been through quite a bit. In that past five years we're lost quite a few members of our community through suicide and through drug overdoses and some we never even know how. In 2012 alone, we lost 23 people, and only three were natural deaths," said Chief Kenequanash.
As well, Chief Kenequanash also noted some of the other struggles of residents in northern Ontario's First Nations communities.
"It's tough to live in a remote community, because you know almost everyone, and when something happens we all feel it," said Chief Kenequanash. "We had problems before, but the last five years were the hardest. We're living the third world conditions, but we will survive, we've been there a long time." But, through his sadness, Chief Kenequanash offered hope that Weagamow and Uxbridge can continue to work together.
"We'd like to thank Uxbridge for all you have done. The door's open in Weagamow for our two communities to come together as one. We have plans of how it's going to work, and it's very exciting."
Mayor Gerri Lynn O'Connor was emotional in offering her support to the residents of Weagamow on behalf of the residents of Uxbridge.
"You brought tears to my eyes as you spoke, and we know pain as well," said Mayor O'Connor. "It's a bit of a miracle when two communities can come together, and for that we're very appreciative. We're with you, and we'll do everything we can to help you. I'm thrilled that we're going to have this friendship, and our door will always be open to you."