Macleod Arnatiaq got a taste of big city life in December, when Calgary Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic flew him, his father and his younger brother from Naujaat to Calgary.
Tuugaalik High School vice principal Julia MacPherson said RCMP Cst. Trevor Gouchie brought the opportunity to her attention.
“Oftentimes if he sees something or hears of something happening for students, he’ll let me know,” said MacPherson.
Hamonic, who is of Metis descent and proud of his heritage, and wife Stephanie run the Travis Hamonic Community Program for Indigenous youth between the ages of six and 17. The trip includes: return airfare for two, two nights hotel accommodation, a $750 Visa gift card, dinner the night of the game, two lower bowl tickets, two Hamonic jerseys, and time with Hamonic.
“I nominated probably about 15 students. I probably could have kept going … I had to write a little letter for everybody. I sent those off,” said MacPherson.
She had to answer a question for each student: “In the sport of hockey one must maintain a positive attitude while going through adversity. Give an example of how maintaining a positive attitude has helped this child overcome a challenge in their lives.”
Hamonic lost his father at the age of 10, and has said it was, and still is, a hard time.
“I always felt a need and a calling to do something good in the world. We initiated the program to invite kids who have lost parents – father, mother – and the parent they have left to come to a game and experience the whole behind-the-scenes aspect of what we do. And they get treated like gold by the organization,” Hamonic said in a sportsnet.ca interview.
MacPherson had written about how Arnatiaq faced adversity through a tragedy when he was quite young – he lost his mother and two older brothers.
In the midst of a three-day blizzard, MacPherson got the call at home. One of the students she nominated was chosen.
“I was very excited. A few tears were shed,” she said.
“Then to my surprise, not only was Macleod selected, but his younger brother could attend, as well.”
MacPherson asked Emmanuel Uttak and his sons Macleod and Pakak Arnatiaq to the school one evening, whereupon Hamonic called.
“There was definitely a lot of excitement,” said MacPherson.
Father and sons travelled together to Calgary Dec. 15 to 17.
Macleod says hearing the news and going to Calgary was exciting, while his younger brother Pakak says he was happy to be included.
Their father cried, said Macleod.
The family was picked up from the airport by limousine, spent time at the arena watching practice and hanging out with the players, as well as watching a game.
“We gave Travis a narwhal (carving),” said Macleod.
“And a sealskin ukpik and a little pair of kamiik for his wife,” adds MacPherson.
Unfortunately, the Flames lost to the Nashville Predators that weekend, said Macleod.