Little N.H.L Celebrates 50-years


The 50th annual Little Native Hockey League tournament was last week including over 200 different squads from over 15 different native bands.

This year’s tournament was hosted in Markham from Sunday, March 9th to Thursday 14th. This year’s celebration was special as it was more than just a hockey tournament like other years. This included a gala with keynote speaker Ted Nolan and opening and closing ceremonies with the main theme this year being “Honoring Our Water”.

(Sean Jasmine Little N.H.L game in Markham Ontario/photo by Ryan Howse-Hackl)

The LNHL tournament remains relatively unknown to people outside Indigenous communities but continues to grow larger each year. It brought in many big-ticket sponsors including the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leaf’s and their main partner for 3 years – The Dreamcatcher Charitable Foundation. This year’s tournament was the largest it has ever been with over 10,000 visitors including players coaches and spectators alike. The event spanned over 10 different ice rinks with almost 250 teams playing more than 550 games. “You know, look, the market is just full of people know, you know, yeah. Yeah. So it’s yeah, this tournament is growing and growing,” says Sean Jasmine a volunteer working for the LNHL.

(Curve Lake Chief Keith Knott at Little N.H.L game in Markham Ontario/photo by Ryan Howse-Hackl)

Teams came from all over Ontario including teams from White Fish River, Six Nations, Curve Lake, Aundeck Omni Kaning and many more. “You know, it brings all these First Nations together playing under one roof and that’s what’s really important,” says Curve Lake First Nations Chief Keith Knott.”

(Curve Lake Deputy Chief Jeff Jacobs Little N.H.L game in Markham Ontario/ photo by Ryan Howse-Hackl)

Many Indigenous hockey fans look forward to this event every year.

“I like that there is one event a year where everybody in Ontario who’s First Nations knows to block it off, and they come here and we can bump into friends that we haven’t seen in a long time,” says Curve Lake First Nations Deputy Chief Jeff Jacobs. To many people it is so much more than hockey it is about unity friendship and comradery.

“I believe in the spirit and intent of the tournament. I believe that education, citizenship, and sportsmanship, I think those are four pillars I always keep tabs on. And I think sometimes when our little ones are competing and playing and enjoying any sport, such as hockey, that sometimes, that gets lost,” says Jeff Jacobs.

This year’s tournament was a massive success thanks in part to the city of Markham being very accommodating and hospitable. A good environment that lets this event bring Indigenous people from all walks of life together whether they live in the city or on reserve and helps unify the Indigenous people of Ontario.



Earl Abotossaway, the late James D. Debassige, the late Reverend Leonard Self, the late Norman Debassige, and the former Chief Jim McGregor created the Little NHL with the goal of starting a competition for our First Nation youth. When they hosted their inaugural tournament over the Christmas holidays in 1971, their shared hopes came true. In the first tournament, there were 17 teams and 200 players. In 2024, there are over 4000 individuals and 245 clubs participating in the tournament.

Video by Rachel White