He Shoots, He Scores: Joshua Bear Works Hard on his Hockey and Healthcare Goals
“It's never easy seeing your friends in crisis and I like to help people,” says Joshua Bear, reflecting on why he’s choosing to pursue medical studies. He is a student athlete from Ochapowace First Nation in Saskatchewan who has played hockey within the AAA leagues of Saskatchewan, as well as Junior A and Junior B. Bear is now in his third year of university taking a Bachelor of Science majoring in biology.
He chose to pursue medicine because he’s had to help his teammates during times of crisis and it’s also why he certified for EMR, a more advanced form of first aid training. Bear would like to become a doctor or surgeon and serve in his home community to help address their 45 minute to an hour medical response time crisis because community members are waiting too long for care.
Injury isn’t the only risk that he’s faced playing hockey; Bear has also faced racism on the ice and it isn’t something he has a lot of patience for. “I have no time for racism. That doesn't really belong in any sport, and I believe we all bleed red, and we're all the same person and on the same level,” he reflects.
He remembers standing up to racism as a young person and how much that took out of him mentally. ”I didn't really know how to cope with it but with the help of my family, friends and community and even ceremony to really, really brought me back and made me proud to be First Nations. I'll always be proud of my heritage,” he explains.
That same support and his spirit of perseverance also got him through racism in school. His advice for Indigenous youth facing racism is “Just keep pushing through and never give up because that stuff's obviously not right, and speak up if it's ever getting too much.” He talks about the struggle of trying to play sports in school and how much harder Indigenous student athletes have to work to be taken seriously.
Bear started playing street hockey at a young age and the experience of winning a championship excited fans of his peewee/atom team made him fall in love with the sport. He advises other aspiring Indigenous athletes thinking about getting into hockey, “Get out there and give it a try. Even if hockey isn't your sport, any sport is always good.”
He grew up playing multiple sports and encourages youth to give it their best shot in sports and in school. He went to boarding school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan in grade nine and found it was a good but tough experience being so far from home. He played on a variety of teams during his hockey career and found the structure of boarding school was good for him and his goal of avoiding drugs and alcohol.
The highlight of his hockey career was his first Junior A game. In his second year of Midget his season was over and he got a call to play with the Melfort Mustangs. His dad drove him and he had a great time. Bear’s favourite spot to play so far was Pilot Mound.
“I'll forever be thankful for that opportunity to see more than what's on the reserve and I always preach that to everyone else. There's always more out there and there's opportunities out there. Ochapowace will always be my home. I love this place. But I also love the going to school aspect and putting yourself out there in the world because I feel that it's good for First Nations peoples too,” he beamed.
If he could give any advice to his younger self he says, “honestly, it would be: slow down. Sometimes the world gets so fast, you get lost in your hockey, lost in your schooling and where I really learned just to slow down is with our ceremonies. I've taken part in lots of sweat lodges and just recently a rain dance, which is very educational and a wicked learning experience for myself too. That's something that just brought me back, slowed me down and gave me that kind of perspective and guidance that I needed and it's very special to me."
Bear found the stress of pandemic life challenging. He exercised a lot and trained with his sisters who are also student athletes. He kept busy to keep his mind from wandering during times of uncertainty. Staying active and engaging in healthy hobbies made a difference for him. “I feel like when you're working out, you're able to get that release, and get those healthy benefits of being active. Being active is very important for keeping all the systems in the body working healthy and everything,” he explains. Smudging with cedar was helpful and his community was dropping off medicine bags at each home to help people feel connected.
Connection is important to Bear, as someone who draws inspiration and motivation from his parents.
His dad is a residential school survivor who worked hard to give him every available opportunity. The support of his community inspires him, as does his family, including his brother who played in the Western Hockey League, and recently graduated from university. “That's someone, I've looked up to very, very much because he's been through it all and he's able to give me that advice that maybe I can’t see from the outside. So amazing. He always does and he always is there for me,” he smiles.
Thinking back on all he’s overcome and how hard he’s worked, he talks about what that feels like. “If you have to be in sports in school, if you have to be 10 times smarter, 10 times better than that person to get that spot that you're fighting for then that's the way it has to be and sometimes that is the way it is. As a First Nation individual, it's always good when you are able to fight that good fight and get past those things in life,” he reflects.
Rising above discrimination and driven by the love of family and community, Bear is working hard to pursue his dreams and shoot his shot. When the goal is bringing quality medical care to his community, everybody wins when he does. After all, it’s not easy seeing his community in crisis, and Joshua Bear likes to help people.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
Future Pathways Fireside Chats are a project of TakingITGlobal's Connected North Program.
Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.