Two local Indigenous hockey stars are back and feeling grateful and inspired after competing in the 2023 National Aboriginal Hockey Championship in Winnipeg last month.
Oliver’s Preston Gabriel of the Okanagan Nation, and Osoyoos’ Danica Maynard of the Métis Nation, both play for the South Okanagan Hockey Academy and were chosen through a rigorous selection process to represent BC in the tournament.
“It was pretty good competition and it was great to see how many players want to play hockey in the Indigenous community. It was good hockey,” Maynard said about the tournament.
Gabriel explained that “it was just really nice to be with everyone else who has Indigenous backgrounds for once because you don't see a lot of Indigenous hockey players.”
She added that it "inspired me to work hard, knowing that I am representing my people back home. And made me realize that I am here for them and I want to work hard for them. And it was also interesting to learn about and meet everyone else and where they come from.”
After a strong opening to the tournament, beating Team Atlantic 4-1 on May 8 and defeating Team Eastern Door and North 16-0, they lost their next two games against Team Saskatchewan 5-0 and Team Ontario 3-0.
Team BC qualified for the medal round with these two wins and two losses. They won their quarter-final game against team Saskatchewan with a score of 5-1, but were unable to defeat team Ontario in a close semi-final game, falling to the eventual tournament winners 2-1.
With this loss, they were relegated to the bronze medal game. Where they experienced an intense double overtime game where they eventually fell to team Alberta 3-2 on May 13.
The tournament gold was won by team Ontario who beat Manitoba in the final 2-1 on Saturday, May 13.
Maynard finished sixth in the entire tournament scoring with four goals and four assists for eight points in six games, with Oliver local Preston Gabriel, finishing the tournament with three goals.
Gabriel is Okanagan Nation having parents in both Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) and Penticton Indian Band (PIB). She explained, “I really enjoyed it and I loved the atmosphere and the great environment and I just had a blast.”
She said that learning about her culture from her childhood and having experiences like this tournament, “Made me feel more connected to my community and the people around me. It made me feel better as a person, knowing who I was, and where I come from.”
Maynard is also very proud of her Métis heritage and has been trying to get more in touch with her roots lately.
“It's great to learn where you are from,” noting that historically “they would try and hide it, they didn't want to be known for it because stuff that happened in the past wasn't so great for them. But now learning about it and embracing that you are Indigenous is something that is unbelievable to see.”