Fundraiser sends Eabametoong girls hockey team to see Ottawa Senators

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Fundraiser sends Eabametoong girls hockey team to see Ottawa Senators

A couple in Kingston, Ont., has raised several thousand dollars to send a hockey team from Eabametoong First Nation to an Ottawa Senators game.

The Rez Girls 64 will be in Ottawa this weekend for the Kanata Girls Hockey Association House League Tournament.

Katie Koopman learned about the team from a documentary on CBC's the Doc Project, she said; the documentary captures the team's journey to its first ever competitive tournament, the 2017 All-Native Goodwill Hockey Tournament in Thunder Bay, and it describes racist incidents the team endured during its trip.  

Koopman wanted to help the team because her own family competes in sports, she said, and she knows how expensive it can be.

"This story just hit me hard with having girls in sports in our own household," Koopman said.

At first, Koopman and her husband, Steve, reached out to the team on Facebook offering their professional photography services free of charge during their tournament, she said.

When that offer was accepted, she began looking for other ways they could help.  

She asked her social media network to chip in 33 $10 gift cards for McDonald's and Subway so they could reduce the team's costs by supplying a meal.  Within three hours she had enough cards for the entire team, she said.

Next, she and her husband started an online fundraiser to buy hockey card-style 8x10 inch metallic portraits for each of the team-members.  They asked for $1,000 and raised $1,400, Koopman said.

With the success of that, they decided to fundraise to send the team to a Senators game — something the team's coaching staff had mentioned they'd like to do, she added.

Within eight hours of launching that fundraiser the Koopmans had raised the $3,000 needed to buy the tickets — at the special price the team was offering to Kanata tournament competitors. 

They've now raised more than double that amount and will be giving the rest of the money to the team for gear, resources and future travel funds, Katie Koopman said.

"Allison [Norman, the team's manager] had said on behalf of the team and the parents that they're very overwhelmed by everyone's generosity," she added, breaking down in tears.

"It's been an emotional month because I think First Nations issues is such a big deal and nobody knows what to do about it, so from our perspective, I think it's been so big as a buy-in to moving forward in a spirit of reconciliation." 

"Given the racism that [the team] experienced at last year's tournament, they're being welcomed to Eastern Ontario with open arms," Koopman added.

"People just want to come on board and show this team some love."