In light of calls upon all levels of government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, sports halls of fame, and other relevant organizations, to provide public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history, Jordan Tootoo's story is one that needs to be heard.
Reconcili-ACTION notes that Tootoo's name is "not only associated with hockey and the NHL but one of aspiration and admiration; especially in the North." Although not the first Indigenous player to play in the NHL, Tootoo has had a resounding impact on Indigenous youth, across the county and in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Tootoo was the first Inuk person to play in the NHL and had a career that saw him play for the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, and Chicago Blackhawks.
When he was just 13 years old, he left Rankin Inlet in Nunavut to play bantam hockey in Spruce Grove Alberta, where he was eventually drafted in 2001 by the Nashville Predators, playing his first game for them in 2003 against the Anaheim Ducks. During his NHL career, Tootoo also started Team Tootoo, a hockey camp for youth back in his home community of Rankin Inlet, allowing kids to focus on hockey skills, life skills, and teamwork. Team Tootoo was also designed to support non-profits doing suicide awareness and prevention work.
Tootoo announced his retirement from the NHL in 2018, stating “...[after] 723 games in the NHL I have decided to retire from the NHL to focus on giving back to the Indigenous Community.” Part of his motivation for giving back to the Indigenous community and for starting Team Tootoo was his brother’s 2002 death by suicide which caused Tootoo to struggle later in his NHL career with mental illness and alcoholism. Tootoo was supported at the time by the Nashville Predators, received mental health supports, went into a rehab program. He is now sober.
Reconcili-ACTION notes that "...Jordin Tootoo’s story is a great one to share because it is about the dreams of an Inuk youth coming true, dealing with the struggles of life that are thrown at us, and persevering with supports and encouragement to overcome personal and societal challenges. Jordin Tootoo serves as an Indigenous, Inuit, and northern role model, proving that even when life throws challenges at us, we can address them, work through them, and overcome them to enjoy exciting and rewarding careers. Jordin Tootoo’s legacy is encouraging for the future Indigenous athletes of this country, and worthy of recognition.
If Canada tells the story of Jordin Tootoo, as they should, then a lot of youth will continue to be inspired to become athletes, role models, and Indigenous community advocates for future generations, as Tootoo has done for many of us during his time in the NHL and after. What an inspiration Tootoo has been in many aspects of life, sport, and culture."
For more Indigenous sports content, check out TBT's interview with Metis NHL legend Theo Fleury.