Retired NHL player Jordin Tootoo spoke to Campbell River teens on Thursday evening with an inspiring message of resilience and hope in the face of mental health struggles.
Tootoo was in Campbell River on Oct. 28 as part of the We Care Fair, put on by the Nawalakw Health Society, Kwakiutl District Council Health and the First Nations Health Authority.
He said his keynote speech was “part of my speaking tour regarding our indigenous communities. I’m sharing my story and allowing our youth to have a path that has been paved. I want to share with them that part of our journey is to be proud of who we are and proud of where we come from.”
Tootoo is Canada’s first Inuk NHL player. He grew up in Rankin Inlet in Nunavut, a community that he says is much like the rural and remote communities around Campbell River. Tootoo retired from the NHL in 2018 to speak to Indigenous youth about suicide prevention and mental health awareness.
“As part of my life, hockey has given me many opportunities, but at the same time I was able to walk away from the game on my own terms. I feel that my calling now is to share my life experiences and give hope to our young Indigenous kids growing up,” he said.
“There are a lot of similarities with our Indigenous communities with the dysfunction in our homes, substance abuse, addiction, everything that I’ve been exposed to and been a part of. For me now to give back to our communities is important,” he said. “It’s important to me to show our kids that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can do anything you want.”
In 2010, Tootoo went into rehab for alcohol addiction. He decided to use his struggles to help Indigenous kids know that even though things can be difficult, there is “a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Whatever profession we choose, we all fight a fight that nobody knows about, until we open up and speak our truth,” he said.
“Sometimes we don’t see that light at the end of the tunnel and we think that when things are difficult we should just give up. We as Indigenous people are resilient,” he said. “We’re here to stay and we ain’t going anywhere. I want our youth to be proud of who they are, where they come from.”