Bridging the Gap

The distance between the Northlands Denesuline First Nations in Lac Brochet, Manitoba and Investors Group Field in Winnipeg is just over 1,000 kilometers.

But on Friday, the Blue Bombers – as part of a new partnership with Perimeter Aviation and its parent company, Exchange Income Corporation – combined to make that distance seem a lot shorter.

Beginning this year, Perimeter and the Bombers will give 45 youth and members from First Nations communities in Manitoba – including Northlands, just 65 kilometers south of the Manitoba-Nunavut border – the chance to enjoy a VIP experience at each home game.

“It’s a very exciting day for me, for my community, and also for the youth of Northlands,” said Northlands Chief Joe Antsanen at a press conference on Friday.

“We deal with a lot of crises in the community, suicides, and the youth are struggling in a lot of ways. Living in an isolated community, there are a lot of things they deal with on a daily basis.”

“Most of my students have grown up in an isolated community and have never really had a chance to be away from the reserve. It will be something different for them and it will also be a good experience for them to go to a professional sports game such as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and get to meet the players. It will be something special for them and I’m sure my youth will be looking forward to that.”

First Nations visits press conference

This new program supports the Northern Manitoba communities Suicide Prevention and Stay in School initiatives as a reward for leadership and favourable school attendance.

The other participating communities include St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill, Red Sucker Lake, Wasagamack, Oxford House, God’s Lake Narrows, Gods River, Shamattawa, Norway House, Cross Lake, Sandy Lake, Lac Brochet and Tadoule Lake.

Those 10 communities will attend a ‘draft dinner’ later this month at Investors Group Field to determine the schedule of games and the distribution of tickets.

The experience will see the kids and their chaperones flown to Winnipeg on a dedicated charter flight, from which they will be shuttled to and from the game, be recognized on the videoboard, be fed meals and snacks during the game, and descend to the field afterward to meet players. The night games will include hotel accommodations.

“We’re going to put on a good show for those kids when they come to each of our games,” said Bombers President and CEO, Wade Miller. “The biggest part of this is the players in the offseason, going up to these communities as well and being able to deliver a positive message.”

Bombers players Matthias Goossen and Ian Wild have already seen the benefits of those visits after travelling to Thompson and Wabowden earlier this year as part of anti-bullying and violence against women prevention programs.

Quarterback Matt Nichols attended the press conference and wants to be involved in visits to First Nations Communities next winter.

“It’s a great initiative,” said Nichols. “As a player, I feel strongly about being involved in the community. This is going to be a great experience for these kids and I look forward to meeting every single one of them.”

“My family and I plan on staying here year-round now so I’ll be here to make some of those trips up in the next offseason. A couple guys went (north) this year and said it was a great experience. I look forward to having that experience next offseason.”