Though her collegiate hockey playing days concluded last year, Meagan Big Snake is still rather actively involved in the sport.
And now Big Snake, who is from Alberta’s Siksika First Nation, is getting paid to be on the ice. That’s because she’s a coach and the project co-ordinator for the Greater Strides Hockey Academy, which is based in Calgary.
The academy currently runs hockey camps for Aboriginal youths as well as after-school hockey programs, also for Native children.
Academy officials also have a rather lofty goal. They want to open a facility in the next couple of years which would see elite Aboriginal hockey playing teenagers from across the country attend school and play hockey together.
“It’s up in the air right now where it’s going to be,” Big Snake said of the proposed facility.
The academy’s chief executive officer is Brantt Myhres, a former pro hockey player. Myhres, who is Métis, played for seven different National Hockey League clubs during his pro career.
Originally, organizers wanted to have the academy in Cochrane, located about a 30-minute drive west of Calgary. But now Edmonton is also being mentioned as a possible location.
Though they will have to do plenty of fund-raising to make this dream become reality, officials are hoping to open their educational/hockey training facility in September of 2014.
The plan is to start small, by having two elite teams, one female, one male, comprised of midget-aged players (15- to 17-year-olds) in the academy’s first year.
Big Snake is hoping she can continue to be involved with the academy.
“It would be awesome to be involved with that,” she said. “What other dream job is out there–to be out on the ice and having fun and getting paid for it.”
Big Snake originally heard about the academy in the spring of 2011. She had just returned home after graduating from State University of New York at Oswego, which is more commonly referred to as Oswego State.
Big Snake played four seasons with the Oswego State women’s hockey team.
A relative suggested she apply to be the project co-ordinator for a fundraising golf tournament the academy was staging that summer. Shortly after getting that position, Big Snake was offered a full-time job with Greater Strides.
Big Snake, who graduated from Oswego State with a degree in public justice, now also works as a finance clerk for the Treaty 7 Management Corporation.
This company, created in 2005, is an advisory organization for the seven First Nations it serves in Alberta. It has also partnered with Greater Strides to assist in its academy venture.
While she was at Oswego State, Big Snake also minored in athletic coaching. She believes it’s a great plus being a female coach for the academy camps, which target youths aged 5-18.
“It’s a great advantage because there are so many female hockey players out there now,” she said. “And the majority of the coaches are guys. Girls though are more comfortable seeing a female coach out there.”
Big Snake added she enjoys being a role model for younger players.
“It’s great for me,” she said. “I’m a local Aboriginal hockey player myself. It’s great to talk to the younger ones about my experiences. And if they need any help contacting any schools I can help them. That’s what I love about this.”
Greater Strides ran a hockey camp in Spruce Grove, Alberta in July and another one in Prince George, British Columbia in August.
Also, this fall the academy is running a pair of after-school hockey programs at two First Nation communities in Alberta. One is on the Tsuu T’ina First Nation and the other is on the Kainai First Nation.