Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As the president and CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO), Kevin Eshkawkogan remains committed to leading the mission of the organization.
And during the past couple of years that includes growing the Indigenous sports tourism sector within the province.
ITO officials kicked off its involvement with Indigenous sports events by lending support to a pair of sporting activities.
For starters, Eshkawkogan’s association supported a pair of games that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ alumni association staged in Indigenous communities last fall. Those matches were held in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and Taykwa Tagamou Nation.
ITO then partnered with reps of the Little Native Hockey League tournament, which was held this past March in Mississauga.
That event, which is often simply called the Little NHL, celebrated its 49th anniversary this year. The youth hockey tourney has become the largest Indigenous one in the province.
ITO’s latest sports partnership was announced earlier this month when it signed an agreement with officials from Golf Ontario and the Ontario Indigenous Championship.
The agreement formalized the parties’ commitment to advance Indigenous sports tourism within the province.
For the second straight year, the Ontario Indigenous Championship will be held at the MontHill Golf & Country Club, located on the Six Nations of the Grand River.
This year’s tournament, which will feature both women’s and men’s divisions, is scheduled for Aug. 13 to Aug. 16.
“We’re always trying to be supportive of people doing good work, and that aligns with what we’re doing,” Eshkawkogan said of ITO’s latest sports partnership.
Eshkawkogan, who recently joined the board of directors for Sport Tourism Canada, said ITO will continue to seek partnerships that will advance Indigenous sport tourism.
“We’re navigating some of that stuff now,” he said. “Some of it is pretty fresh.”
Eshkawkogan said those plans include expanding to other sports beyond the hockey and golf work ITO has done so far.
“Baseball is on our radar,” he said. “And definitely lacrosse too. I would love to see something with lacrosse, like an international lacrosse tournament in Ontario. We want to work with championships in these events to help grow these events.”
Eshkawkogan said for now there is not a huge amount of work ITO officials have to do with the upcoming provincial Indigenous golf tournament.
The four-day event will kick off with a day of practice rounds and opening ceremonies. That will be followed by three days of competition in the 54-hole event.
The tournament is open to Ontario residents who have First Nations, Inuit or Métis ancestry.
“We’re simply a supporter and trying to spread the message,” Eshkawkogan said of the 2023 tourney.
Tournament organizers, however, do have some grand plans for the event.
Though this marks the second straight year it will be staged in Six Nations, the goal is to have the tournament move around to different locations each year.
The inaugural event featured participants representing 41 Indigenous communities.
“They’re trying to grow the event to be a strong Indigenous event for Indigenous people,” Eshkawkogan added.
Steve Tooshkenig, the tournament chair for the Ontario tourney, is obviously in favour of the event’s new partners.
“Our belief is to include and bring together partnerships that will be beneficial for the next seven generations,” he said. “We value the work of both Indigenous Tourism Ontario and Golf Ontario. We sit in a circle together, cheering on the best golfers from Turtle Island and giving thanks to the Creator for our path moving forward.”
Kyle McFarlane, Golf Ontario’s CEO, is also pleased with news of the partnership.
“Golf Ontario is excited to establish this alliance with Indigenous Tourism Ontario,” he said. “This partnership exemplifies our shared vision to elevate the Indigenous Ontario Championship and allow Indigenous athletes to showcase their incredible talents on a provincial stage. We look forward to bringing individuals and communities together to share in the excitement of the championship.”
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.