Not only has he inspired many people across the World to be the best that they can be, but Willie Littlechild has been a classic example, role model on how hard work and education pays off.
While he was playing numerous sports while attending the University of Alberta, he was inspired and coached by a living legend and an icon in the coaching world by the name of Clare Drake.
Littlechild, the Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six Nations in 2016, was introduced as a member of the Class of 2018 into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
“It starts out in residential school and here it’s ended up in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame,” said the emotional Littlechild of surviving the national disgrace that inflicted so much suffering on the many survivors across Canada.
A very humble man and now also ranks truly as a living legend, Willie Littlechild has accomplished and achieved many accolades through his hard work and the belief that he needs to pave the way for many youth that will follow in his footsteps.
Playing various sports and specifically hockey has turned Littlechilds’ life around of not being a quitter and striving to the next step. Hockey played that key role for him and he humbly speaks of his past and lessons learned.
“Hockey saved my life coming out of residential school. I was going down the wrong path in terms of alcohol and drinking. I could have ended up on skid row somewhere, beaten to death or drunk, but hockey was always there,” stated Littlechild.
As many of his First Nations people have not only gone through many challenges because of their experiences and being scarred for life in the residential schools. Littlechild takes the experience to challenge himself to prove to others that he can turn a negative experience and make it into a positive difference to educate today’s society of those unforgotten years.
“One time I remember I was going to quit school at the University of Alberta. I’d had it. Clare Drake phoned me. I was at home on the reservation. I said ‘I quit.’ He said ‘We have a practice at 5 p.m. and you better be on the ice.’ That was one of the biggest turns in my life. I was probably headed for places a lot of my friends and my people ended up,” he said of Drake who was recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Hockey gave me all the breaks in my life including a broken leg. And that was what got me into law school.”
“Coach Drake had a rule that nobody could ski. My roommate was a downhill racer. After exams one year he said ‘Come on Chief, let’s go skiing.’ I said ‘No I can’t. Coach said no skiing.’ He said ‘Come on. Exams are done. It’s spring skiing.’ So I went. Sure enough, I broke my leg really badly.’
“I couldn’t skate for six years, actually. But I ended up coaching hockey and going to NHL Management School where everyone was a lawyer. So I figure ‘I have to be a lawyer to stay in hockey. So I became a lawyer.”
Littlechild is getting honoured into the Induction Class of 2018 with a group that includes two-time Edmonton Eskimos Grey Cup champion Damon Allen, Toronto Maple Leafs great Dave Keon, Olympians Alexandre Despatie and Chandra Crawford, Sandra Kirby and Jeff Adams and ‘League of Their Own’ women’s baseball star Mary Baker.
In honour of the many First Nations across Canada, Littlechild attended the Induction Ceremony wearing his Tribal headdress. What a proud moment it was not only for Willie Littlechild but for the many followers that he has represented throughout the years.
Littlechild was born on the Ermineskin Reserve at Maskwacis, just 45 minutes south of Edmonton, and was raised by his precious grandparents. Willie, as he is known to everyone that has come to meet him, took his grandfather’s guidance of traditional cultural knowledge from an early age and with his grandmother always encouraging Willie to appreciate the value of formal education.
As an all-round great athlete, Willie attended residential schools from 1951 to 1964 and played a wide variety of sports, including hockey, football, baseball and swimming. It was a perfect fit for finding a way out of the negative experience and driving that energy and resilience to endure an environment of institutional abuse and separation from his family. Littlechild is truly an inspiration and living proof that First Nations people have a lot to share to the Canadian society.
In everything that Willie Littlechild has accomplished, not only did he have to work twice as hard as his colleagues but he did it with class and perseverance.
Athletic pursuits taught Willie that with hard work and dedication he could excel and fulfill his potential, even in difficult circumstances. These lessons also shaped Willie’s approach to higher education. A diligent student, he attended the University of Alberta and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education in 1967, followed by a Master’s Degree in 1975.
In 1976, Willie achieved his Law Degree becoming the first Treaty First Nation person from Alberta to become a lawyer. He also became the first Treaty First Nation person to be elected a Member of Parliament in Canada, representing the riding of Wetaskiwin-Rimbey from 1988 to 1993.
For over four decades he has worked with the United Nations to advocate for Indigenous sport and the global Indigenous rights movement. He also served as a Commissioner for Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and was named Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six Nations in 2016.
During his studies at the University of Alberta, Willie played for the Golden Bears hockey and swim teams and worked as student manager of the university’s football and basketball teams. Committed to empowering others through sport, he also founded and coached the first all-Indigenous junior hockey team in Alberta and organized referee and coaching clinics across the province. In 1967 and 1974, he received the Tom Longboat award, which recognizes the most outstanding Aboriginal athletes and their contributions to sport in Canada.
A pioneering role model, organizer and advocate for Indigenous sport in Canada, Willie Littlechild has worked tirelessly over five decades to create new opportunities for Indigenous athletes. Notable examples of the many events and organizations he has helped establish at every level of competition include the creation of the North American Indigenous Games in 1990 and the World Indigenous Nations Games in 2015. Willie continues to promote Indigenous sport as an important component of reconciliation, community building and an enduring expression of cultural identity, offering young people in particular, a way “to honour the blessing that you have physically and then combine it with the mental, and the physical and the cultural, so that you have a wholesome foundation for life.”