During E.S. Laird’s annual Winter Carnival celebrating aboriginal culture and winter fun, the school received a couple of visitors. Former NHL players Wade Redden and Jordin Tootoo spoke to a gymnasium packed with E.S. Laird students about mental health.
The two are accomplished indigenous hockey players. Redden, a Métis man, was born right here in Lloydminster and grew up in Hillmond. He started out with the Lloydminster Blazers and credits the team’s help with him moving on to the WHL. Morgan Mann, teacher and counsellor at E.S. Laird, grew up alongside Redden and was excited to have him and Tootoo speak to the students.
“We were very excited to have them come in, and have them come speak. Their message was very powerful, an exceptional message. We’ve been running a cultural day here at E.S. Laird for the past seven or eight years, and we’ve been proud of it every year but to have them speak at it is very special,” says Mann.
The two shared their personal struggles with mental health, how they chose to overcome it and their connection to their heritage. Redden admires the cultural day celebrated at E.S. Laird and admits he’s proud of where he’s come from.
“It’s always fun to come back. I think it’s really awesome that they’ve been doing this cultural day here for the past number of years. It’s really important for kids to learn about things, connect with where they’re from and who they are,” says Redden. Him and Tootoo value the experiences they have to share. He recognizes the struggle it is to grow up isolated and the importance of mental health.
“We were all teenagers or adolescents, and at that age, you think you’re the only one going through certain things if you have stresses or issues when really it’s a common thing. For me, if I could talk to my younger self and go back to those days, I’d say to be open and honest. Talk about your feelings. Have someone you can trust and rely on.”
Tootoo is also no stranger to struggle. After moving from his northern home of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, he faced racism and struggled with alcohol abuse. He admitted to lacking communication skills while growing up and stressed to the students how important it is to talk about your struggles.
“I’ve learned in my lifetime you can’t do it all by yourself, you’ve got to be able and willing to ask for help and get advice from other people. That’s one thing I really want kids to know, that if you’re open and honest and you communicate, life gets a little better,” says Tootoo. He now uses his platform to advocate for indigenous youth and give back to the indigenous community.