Nearly 20 years ago, Kyle Dodginghorse stepped behind the bench for the first time to coach at the Alberta Treaty Hockey Games and Native Provincials.
He now sits on Hockey Alberta’s Indigenous Hockey Committee and is the Hockey Coordinator for Tsuut’ina Nation.
The position with Tsuut’ina Nation came about through a side project, Dodginghorse Development, that he and his wife founded when they noticed that Indigenous children often missed out on opportunities to participate. They hosted hockey camps that incorporated hockey, yoga and personal fitness on holidays and over the course of the summer.
“We wanted to do our own little hockey camps to get kids on the ice for a low cost to get them on the ice and give them the extra development,” said Dodginghorse. “There was an opportunity on the reserve with this building (7 Chiefs Sportplex) opening, that they wanted someone to run the hockey program. It was everything I wanted to do, and now I take care of everything hockey for our kids.”
Though his title has changed, the passion for providing opportunities to Indigenous youth and getting more kids into the game is still prominent for Dodginghorse.
“I run an afterschool hockey program for kids to get extra ice time. Every day there’s a different age group from U7-U18 and it gives them time to work on skills they can’t work on in practice. During the summer we transition to a daily drop-in with their designated age groups,” said Dodginghorse. “We started the Little 7 Chiefs Hockey Program two years ago. It’s for anyone who hasn’t played hockey before but it’s geared toward the 4-7 year-olds who aren’t ready to play hockey in an association. It’s a chance to get comfortable on the ice and see if it’s for them. In the two years we’ve ran it, we’ve had a lot of success, with about 30 new kids each year. So that’s 30 new kids ready to go to the association the next year.”
Dodginghorse has worked to develop a partnership with Hockey Calgary, one that he said was instrumental in bringing the First Shift Program to Tsuut’ina Nation.
Committed to delivering programs that eliminate barriers, Dodginghorse has also created an equipment exchange program at the 7 Chiefs Sportplex. Through his efforts of giving youth an opportunity to play hockey, Tsuut’ina Nation is also a recipient of an Every Kid Every Community grant from Hockey Alberta.
“(Every Kid Every Community) helped us huge. I’m kind of a one-man army so that will allow me to bring in extra instruction for our youth. Maybe it’s someone that will focus on stickhandling, shooting, powerskating, but just to give them another voice and another point of view as well. There’s a lot of wear and tear on our stuff so to be able to get new equipment is nice. We’re excited to have that grant,” said Dodginghorse.
As Dodginghorse continues to grow the sport in his community, he is disheartened that racism is still happening in today’s game.
“Sometimes you deal with the racism. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to go away in the near future. It’s not just in sports, it’s everywhere,” said Dodginghorse. “With Ethan Bear, I obviously commend him for standing up and saying what he said because it’s not easy to do that. That’s the hardest thing because you don’t know how to stand up to it. You don’t know how it’s going to be dealt with or if it’s going to be swept under the rug.”
Dodginghorse has experienced racism at all levels and believes the first step to treating everyone equal, is to make people aware that the discrimination is happening, which is something that social media is doing.
“I’m so proud to be Native. We have a beautiful culture. We’re so family oriented and always cheering for each other,” Dodginghorse said. “Every time I see someone else succeed it brings me so much joy. I hope to see some of our kids at that (professional) level in the future.”
Yet Dodginghorse does not measure success of Tsuut’ina Nation’s hockey program through level of play. He determines it by the life-long relationships players develop through their time in the game and the life skills they learn. And he’s adamant that hockey is the best game that you can play.