Jana Headrick grew up in a hockey-loving Ojibway family, and started playing hockey when she was three years old.
As the years went on, she no longer saw herself in the sport, losing the feeling of friendship and connection that comes with being on a team of peers.
“Female hockey was growing in my area and not necessarily overly supported, so the opportunity definitely wasn’t always there,” she told Information Morning Fredericton.
Headrick, originally from Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., kept looking for her team, and she found it in the University of New Brunswick Reds.
This fall she’s using her team’s resources and her coach’s expertise to offer camps to Indigenous girls in the Fredericton area to make sure they get an opportunity to discover their own passion.
“It’s super meaningful and super fun for me being out there and to get to interact with all the girls, and seeing all the smiles on their faces,” she said.
The camp is now sold out, with four more weeks to go.
The team also had an equipment drive to get sticks and skates for the girls who are participating. In the camp they will learn the sport and how it can be a way to get to higher education and finding a community, Headrick said.
Indigenous studies sparks a passion
Before coming to the UNB in 2020, Headrick played for four years at the University of Toronto, where she took kinesiology and Indigenous studies for her undergraduate degree.
She said learning about Indigenous issues made her see her experience growing up in Garden River in a new light.
“[Learning about] Indigenous issues, and especially Indigenous issues surrounding sport, really made me want to try to do something about it,” she said.
She wasn’t sure how to go about that, until she met her hockey coach at UNB, where she’s studying for a master’s degree in sports and recreation.
“She was really pushing us … to get out in the community and learn about different backgrounds and basically, like, be honourable so that you’re a better citizen when you leave here.”
Sarah Hilworth, head coach of the Reds, said in a news release that she hopes Headrick will inspire other Indigenous girls to start their own hockey careers.
“We believe hockey is for everyone and this is one of the ways we want to walk that walk,” Hilworth is quoted as saying.
Headrick said the team acknowledges there is an accessibility problem in the sport world.
“Hockey is a very expensive sport that lacks diversity,” Headrick said. “It’s not an accessible sport for children from many different backgrounds and demographics, First Nations included.”
Headrick said she hopes to see more people like her on the ice in the future.
“Seeing me, they might realize they can use something they love as a vehicle to a higher education,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be sport. It could be writing, the arts, whatever passion they have.”