Meet one of the real lacrosse players behind the film The Grizzlies

Inspired by true events, The Grizzlies follows a group of Inuit youth in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, depicting their struggles, as they gain a sense of pride and purpose through the sport of lacrosse.

The film closed out the Yellowknife International Film Festival to a standing ovation on Sept. 30.

Kyle Aviak says it was "surreal" getting to see an actor play his younger self on the big screen. He's one of the real people who inspired the movie The Grizzlies.

Aviak was one of the original members, joining the team after the summer of 2001.

He said he first watched the film at a private screening at his home and it brought back a lot of good memories. He also visited the set of the film, which was partially filmed in Iqaluit.

Submitted by Kyle Aviak
Submitted by Kyle Aviak

"It was a feeling that definitely was strange but it was kind of neat to see it because of the role that organization had played... in my life," he said.

Born and raised in Kugluktuk, Aviak said the team initially had no idea what lacrosse was or how to play it until teacher Russ Sheppard began a lacrosse program in the community.

Just like the film, at first there was reluctance among youth to join, but once the sport caught on it became a big part of the community, he said. Aviak and his teammates would practice as often as they could, sometimes late into the night and in frigid temperatures.

"We'd take our lacrosse sticks wherever we went in town and our parents looking at us like 'what is going on with these kids? Why are they carrying these things?'" he said.

Aviak said the sport requires teamwork, discipline and being able to control your temper, things that have helped him to be successful.

"Lacrosse played a significant role in my life, it brought out a lot of positives for my character and it brought out a lot of challenges that allowed me to address these challenges," he said.

The Grizzlies is about more than just the sport. It takes a hard hitting look at some of the impacts of colonization and residential schools like suicide, domestic violence, and substance misuse.

Aviak said it was difficult watching some of those scenes, but that they're important.

Emily Blake/CBC
Emily Blake/CBC

"A lot of the communities in the North have been impacted by these challenges and having them out in the open gives us a chance to get them addressed and not get the problems solved but add more tools to giving a positive solution to the challenges."

Avalik has been living in Yellowknife for almost eight years now but he said he still keeps in touch with Sheppard and many of his former teammates. He said travelling across Canada and the U.S. to play lacrosse helped the team to form close bonds as they overcame the daily obstacles facing Northern Indigenous youth.

"It teaches a lot about the togetherness of the team where this team here is the lacrosse team but it also teaches everybody about our community," said Aviak. "What our community is like and how we can bring everybody together for the sake of positive and allow us to get each other through these challenges."

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