The loss of the Treaty 8 First Nations Cup Hockey Tournament is a huge economic loss to the High Prairie business community amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, says a High Prairie merchant.

But members of the High Prairie Recreation Board (also known as the Joint Recreation Committee) are promising to reach out to Treaty 8 organizers to attempt to bring the popular hockey tournament back to High Prairie.

Barry Sharkawi attended council’s March 14 meeting lamenting the loss of the tournament.

“It’s a big loss for our community. How could we lose such an event?” asked Sharkawi.

Unquestionably, the Treaty 8 event is either the second of third biggest event in town each year behind the leading Elks Pro Rodeo and the High Prairie Gun and Sportsmen Show. Hotels are full, restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores are busy with plenty of money spent in town.

“All of a sudden they are going to Slave Lake,” said Sharkawi. “What’s the reason?”

“Personally, I don’t know,” replied Mayor Brian Panasiuk, who sits on the board with Councillor James Waikle as Town reps.
CAO Bill McKennan added the Town was anxious to work with the organization to bring the tournament back to town.

“Formally, we have not received any communication,” he said, but that was after the Town reached out after organizers pulled the plug.

“Staff have reached out to that organization.”

Treaty 8 Cup organizer Dwayne Thunder declined comment.

However, Sharkawi told council he spoke to organizers and were told they could not get ice March 30 to April 2. He added they also could “not get a deal on ice”.

In the past, other communities have offered ice rate deals but organizers chose to stay in High Prairie.

Sharkawi asked why the rec committee did not meet with Treaty 8 before to discuss the issues, which they did not.

“They never formally approached the rec board,” replied Waikle, not disputing Sharkawi’s claim they did not meet with organizers before the decision in an effort to keep the event in town.

“The decision was made and they moved.”

But the rec board did not meet with organizers before the decision to move was made to ensure everything was OK.
Waikle promised the rec board would work hard over the next few months to bring the event back.

“We need business,” said Sharkawi.

“Losing an event like this is going to be tough on us.

“It seems to me like no one cared or what,” Sharkawi concluded.

South Peace News reached out to the Town reps and Big Lakes County reps on the rec board for comment. Panasiuk responded March 17 on behalf of the Town.

“High Prairie town council is disappointed that the Treaty 8 Cup Tournament is being moved to the town of Slave Lake from the town of High Prairie. This long-standing event has provided recreational enjoyment, business support and tourism activities for the community. The Town has reached out to the organizing committee to engage in discussions and opportunities for future events and tournaments.”

Panasiuk addressed booking concerns and ice rates and says Treaty 8 organizers decided to pull the plug without meeting with the Town.

“The Town had entered booking arrangements for the event in early December 2022. In early February of 2023 an informal inquiry was made by organizers on the potential for an ice rate reduction from the original booking arrangements. A meeting was scheduled with the organizing committee for Feb. 21 and Town administration was invited to attend. The meeting was cancelled and rescheduled for Feb. 28. The Town was advised, prior to the 28th, that our attendance at this meeting was not required.”
Once the decision to move was made, the Town acted swiftly to attempt to bring the event back.

“Administration and council took proactive steps to secure the tournament and council has authorized McKennan to create a ‘tournament rate’ to be more competitive with neighbouring communities, once the Town become aware of the potential relocation of the tournament.”

Panasiuk adds there were other challenges noted by members of the organizing committee besides ice rental fees including the lack of accommodations that were available within the town during the event dates.

“The Town is looking forward to engaging all groups, including the Treaty 8 Cup Committee, to ensure the utilization of Town facilities is maximized and the broader community benefits from the positive economic spinoffs.”

Thunder was again contacted for comment but did not return a phone call.

On March 15, Big Lakes County rec board reps Richard Mifflin and Jim Zabolotniuk were asked to explain what they did to keep the tournament in town. A response was issued through the communications department, a procedure the County prefers rather than contacting councillors directly.

“The Joint Recreation Committee had no say regarding where the Treaty 8 First Nations Cup would be held. As always, we will continue to advocate in the best interest of our community and the residents and businesses that serve it.”
Mifflin and Zabolotniuk were asked what exactly what they did to advocate to keep the tournament in town. A similar statement was issued through County communications which did not address the question.

“As the Joint Recreation Committee has stated. . .the committee had no say regarding whether the Treaty 8 First Nations Cup would be held. As always, the committee will continue to advocate in the best interest of our community and the residents and businesses that serve it.”

Meanwhile, Sharkawi warns the Slave Lake business community will do everything it can to keep the event once they get a taste of the economic benefits and worries it may never return to High Prairie.

by Chris Clegg

March 25, 2023

This item copyrighted by / South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta

Comments are Welcome - Use the 'Join the Discussion' above any replies, or 'TheRegional / Chat' below replies. Both links take you to the same place. You will be asked to become a registered user if you are not one already - Posts are moderated