AUNDECK OMNI KANING – Reggie Leach of Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation, the former National Hockey League (NHL) star who runs hockey skills camps for Indigenous youth in the Sudbury-Manitoulin area, is one of 83 new appointees to the Order of Canada, a list that includes scientists, healthcare advocates, jurists, actors, athletes and public servants.
“This is a very, very great honour,” said Mr. Leach when contacted by the Recorder on Tuesday. “‘Wow!’ That’s what I said when I was notified I had been appointed to the Order of Canada. To me it was surprising; I know someone had put my name forward a while back, but I didn’t expect anything to come of it.”
Mr. Leach was a former star in the NHL, scoring 381 goals in a 13-year career and having won the Stanley Cup with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975. He also he played for Team Canada. But his biggest claim to fame is his hockey camp and speaking to Indigenous youths about his life and the mistakes he has made, and encouraging and pointing them in the right direction.
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, announced on June 27 the 83 new appointments to the Order of Canada. “Created in 1967, the Order of Canada is one of our country’s highest honours. Presented by the governor general, the Order honours people whose service shapes our society, whose innovations ignite our imaginations and whose compassion unites our communities,” a release states. Close to 7,000 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order of Canada. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and have taken to heart the motto of the order: Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam (“They desire a better country”).
“Everyone thinks that hockey has been the most important thing in my life, but it is a very small part of my life,” Mr. Leach told the Recorder. “I am more proud of what I did after hockey than any of my hockey-playing days. I believe everyone makes mistakes and bad choices—and I made a lot of them when I was in my 20s and 30s—but I learned from my mistakes and moved on.”
“My life today has been working with and talking to kids in First Nations communities, and all kids everywhere across the country,” said Mr. Leach. “I wrote a book a few years ago detailing the mistakes I have made; I actually wrote it for my grandkids and all kids who are struggling in life.”
Interestingly, Mr. Leach told the Recorder, “when I first started speaking engagements I wrote out my notes. I was the worst speaker around. Then someone told me to just speak from my heart. When I spoke at Brock University (having received an honourary doctorate), I only had seven minutes but you could tell the kids loved what I was saying to them.” He explained, “I told them they need to stay focused, that when they started in university four years ago they had the spirit and determination that they were going to change the world. It is important they keep this focus.”
“I told them they need to be proud of who they are and their culture,” said Mr. Leach. “Currently, we’re struggling in Canada because we are not working together. And the government is the worst of this. I try to stay out of politics but I would like to see our First Nations leaders talk about the positive stuff we have been doing over the last 40 years in our communities. Too many kids hear the negatives; I’d like our leaders to help get more of a positive message out. We can pretty much do anything we want if everyone works together.”
“I’ve always been positive in my life, I would just tell myself and believe I could do anything,” continued Mr. Leach.
For example, when he went into alcohol rehabilitation in 1985, “I went in with the attitude I can get through this—and I did.”
“I probably would like to do more speaking,” said Mr. Leach. “I don’t like idle time,” he said.
Two months ago, he spoke at a United Nations gathering in New York, focusing on language. “They asked me if I would speak about the importance of youth sports in aboriginal communities. I said we need to give them credit and guidance; they need to be pointed in the right direction. They are going to be our leaders in the future and they will shape the world.”
“A lot of kids are smarter than I was at their age. We have to get that out and work with it,” he said.
He acknowledged, “I’ve been on quite a roll the past couple of years. I just recently received an honourary doctorate from Brock University, then received the call about the Order of Canada appointment.”
Six months ago, he was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, and three years ago he received the Order of Manitoba (he is originally from Riverton, Manitoba). “All this is rewarding, but I don’t do it for rewards.”
“I would like to do more speaking to and helping youth. I’m 69 years old, enjoy life, love to travel and don’t like idle time on my hands,” he said.
He acknowledged the tremendous support he receives from his wife, Dawn Madahbee-Leach, (general manager of Waubetek Business Development Corporation).
“I said to her last evening, ‘just imagine the work we could have done if we had got together earlier in life.’ We’ve only been together 15 years, but we’ve accomplished quite a few things to help others.”
“My family wants to be there at the Order of Canada ceremony,” said Mr. Leach. “You know, sometimes I wake up in the morning and I think, ‘is this really happening to me?’ It is nice to be recognized for your efforts to help others.”