For the third straight year, COVID-19 has forced Nipissing First Nation (NFN) organizers to cancel the Little Native Hockey League (LNHL) tournament.
The annual event typically sees over 200 teams of First Nations youth from across Ontario converge for four days of hockey and celebration, but the LNHL tournament hasn’t been held since 2019 due to the ongoing pandemic.
“While this isn’t the kind of three-peat anyone aspires to, the decision to cancel the tournament for the third year in a row was made entirely out of concern for the health and safety of First Nation communities across Ontario, especially those unequipped to deal with increased demands on already very limited resources,” said NFN Chief Scott McLeod in a release. “Although we remain hopeful that the situation will improve in the coming months, this pandemic continues to teach us that we can’t predict what will come next. We all hope that this will come to an end sooner than later, but as many have noted, ‘hope is not a strategy’ and holding a huge hockey tournament amidst an ongoing global pandemic is not a risk that Nipissing First Nation is willing or prepared to take.”
Though NFN is the host community, the tournament was slated to take place in Mississauga from March 13-17, as Northern Ontario communities don’t have the infrastructure to host that many teams. This fall, organizers were optimistic they’d be able to safely hold the event, but that was before the Omicron variant was discovered and quickly made its way across the province. The Ontario government announced a return to “modified Step 2 measures” of their Roadmap to Reopen plan on Jan. 3, which includes restrictions on gatherings and a closure of indoor recreational facilities. The measures will be in place until at least Jan. 26, but likely longer.
The decision to cancel the tournament was fully supported by the LNHL Executive Committee.
“In these rapidly changing and unpredictable times, your health and safety has always been our top priority,” said LNHL President Marian Jacko in a release. “I would like to thank the NFN LNHL Host Committee and the NFN Chief and Council for their leadership, their support, and their resilience. On behalf of the LNHL Executive, we express our heartfelt gratitude for their unwavering dedication and support for the Little NHL.”