Throughout December, the NHL is spotlighting players and alumni of indigenous descent. We asked these men and women to reflect on how their indigenous heritage has influenced their identity within hockey.
Today, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour discusses giving back to First Nations reservations.
For as long as I can remember, I have loved playing two sports: hockey and lacrosse.
That was the case throughout my childhood in Tilbury, Ontario, and it stayed that way when I moved back to my birthplace of Brantford, Ontario, around high school. Winters were dedicated to hockey; summers were dedicated to lacrosse.
These days, as I've become established in the NHL, I try to spend my summers giving back in any way I can. It's made me realize how lucky I was to have the opportunities I had growing up.
I spent part of my upbringing on Canada's largest First Nation reservation -- the Six Nations of the Grand River, right outside of Brantford. It's a tight-knit community, and it showed at games. I always had so many people showing up to watch and wanting to be involved in some way -- grandparents, cousins, friends, you name it. In some ways, it's still like that even today.
I take a lot of pride in my indigenous heritage, so one way I try to use my platform now is by visiting different reservations and seeing what others experience. I took a trip to the Yukon this past summer, and one in particular visit stuck with me. This reservation had no ice surface at all. All they had was a small ball hockey arena, probably the length of the goal line to the closest blue line in a normal rink. If the kids who live there want to skate, the nearest town with an ice rink is two hours away.
I was fortunate to be able to spend time with a lot of kids during that visit, just doing simple things like playing pass or even just talking. I tried to share whatever I could, and I tried to learn from their experiences as well. I believe we learned from each other.
I grew up one of three boys, and all of us played the same sports. I was lucky to have those sports readily available and to have two parents who sacrificed a lot for us. It's because of those circumstances I have the privilege to play in the NHL today.
I feel fortunate to have this platform, and I plan to use it to continue to give back as much as I can.