It was a night of hope and unity at the Maple Creek Community Rink on Saturday night, as hundreds of Indigenous and non-Indigenous gathered at the 36th-annual Battle of Little Big Puck.
Recently, there has been a lot of racial tension in the public sphere, including social media, in the wake of the Gerald Stanley not-guilty verdict. However, Saturday night was a 180-degree turn.
The standing-room-only game saw no sign of the tension that has recently plagued parts of the province. The evening was simply two cultures coming together as a community, and as hockey fans for a night, to enjoy a unique twist on a hockey game, have a good time, and raise money for charity.
Trevor Marion, the General Manager of the Living Sky Casino in Swift Current, attended the game for the first time. Marion said that he didn't see race, but rather just hockey players playing a game.
"It didn't matter who you were, what culture you were, there were two players fighting for the puck," he said. "It was amazing to see the smiles on their face. It was just two good friends taking little jabs at each other trying to get that puck."
Marion feels an event like the Battle of Little Big Puck is something that would be great in every community.
"I think it would be great for this type of event for all cultures," he said. "Just the awareness, the teamwork, the brothership, and everything else it brings is great. It was nice to see, and it warmed my heart my sure."
Marion further added it was great to see the smiling faces, the support, and the community come together.
Joe Braniff, one of the organizers of the Battle of the Little Big Puck, said he felt they needed the game to go without a hiccup, and the fact that everything went smoothly, was huge.
Braniff said that to him this year's game felt different than the previous years' tilts.
"Just in lieu of what has happened in the province made it feel different," he said. "I think it's important for us to send the message that when this was our toughest year yet, to put this on because of that, that we persevered. We showed not only the province, but through the help of our community, we showed other communities and our respective cultures, and we showed ourselves, that this stuff could be overcome."
Braniff talked about what he wanted to achieve out of the event, besides raising money and putting on a great game for the fans.
"We want to be the message of goodwill. We want to help ease and help heal whatever wound there is for everybody," he said. "There's a lot of people hurting in the province. We want to be a part of the healing process. It's meant a lot to us to carry on the with the game like it was originally planned. To show that we are more than capable of working together and overcoming adversity."
Braniff added that he hopes that people learned something about how cultures should interact, but especially the younger generation.
"We want to send a message to our young people," he said. "Young members of the Nekaneet band and the young cowboys. We want to make sure that we show them the way."
Spectators, and participants in the game, came from afar to be part of the annual event.
Joe Poitras drove down from Regina to play for the Indians for the sixth time. He said that he hopes other communities start doing events like this.
"It was a great event not only for the community but for the overall area. I think something like this needs to be done in other communities. You see the relationship between the reserve and the town, and it's amazing what it's like here."
Braniff said that the relationship the community has might be due to that fact that a lot of people in the town go back generations.
"What stands this event apart from others is that our relationships between the Cowboys and Nekaneet team goes back generations," he said. "There are players on each side whose grandparents, and great-grandparents actually knew each other."
Bob Black a long-time local resident was spotted hugging the SIGA mascot Chip and said of the event "This is the way our whole province should be getting along, and you can quote me on that!"
Dale Mosquito, another one of the organizers of the Battle of Little Big Puck, talked about what he hopes people learned.
"That we all need to learn to get along," he said. "I have a couple of horses. Three white horses were feeding with a brown horse, and something spooked them. Those three white horses didn't tell the brown horse to stay back; you're different from us, no they look after one another, they support one another, they do care for each other."
Mosquito added that they could have let recent events and adversity try to topple the game, but people got together and made the game happen.
Tom Reardon, one of the original organizers of the game, said that what makes the game special is the fellowship between players.
"When the game ended, everybody just stopped skating and went to visit with the guy that was beside him."
Reardon added that he never envisioned the game becoming the attraction that it has, but says with all of its success it hasn't lost its purpose, which is to celebrate two cultures co-existing and cooperating and enjoying one another.