A new outdoor hockey rink in Chateh, Alta., is giving youth a place for sports and RCMP officers a chance to connect with the community.
The recreational space, located directly behind the Chateh detachment, is available for skating and hockey during the winter, and basketball, dodgeball and ball hockey in the summer.
Sgt. Gordon Hughes, who arrived in the northern Alberta community in 2017, wanted to promote wintertime physical activity. Hughes made a natural ice pad near the detachment that season and kids flocked to it.
Hoping for a permanent space, Hughes partnered with the Dene Tha' First Nation Recreation and Cultural Society and began to apply for funding.
"We supported the idea right away," says Dene Tha' First Nation Chief James Ahnassay. "Any opportunities for activities are good for youth."
The facility was finished in November and kids began skating soon after. A hockey-tape-cutting ceremony took place this past January, featuring a prayer song, a sacred fire offering and speeches from the project's supporters.
Hughes says the community has taken a sense of pride in the facility and have cleared the ice after every snowfall.
A rink naming contest was held and Xeek'iicho Mieh, which translates to Bison Pond, won.
Ahnassay says the naming contest gives the youth a sense of ownership.
"This is theirs to use," Ahnassay says, adding that the community is coming together to organize games and teach others how to skate.
Before building Xeek'iicho Mieh, the nearest recreation centre for the community's 300 young people was nearly an hour away.
The rink's location has given RCMP members the chance communicate with Chateh residents.
Hughes often spots people of all ages using the ice and says RCMP officers will stop to say hello.
The project was funded in part by the RCMP Foundation and Jordan's Principle. Sports Central, an Alberta non-profit organization, donated equipment to ensure youth without gear could use the new rink. Tolko industries, Husky Energy, Bateman Petroleum and REW Electric also supported the project.