“We all fight a fight that no one knows about. Every individual has their own story,” were the words of former NHL star Jordin Tootoo as he addressed a crowd of over 200 people in Prince George.
Tootoo was a keynote speaker at the Indigenous Leaders and Healthcare Workers Addictions Forum hosted by the First Nations Health Authority taking place at the Prince George Civic Centre.
Sporting a black eye that he got from a hockey tournament while visiting his hometown of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Tootoo spoke about his journey struggling to get clean and the loss of his brother Terence to suicide.
From 2003 to 2107, Tootoo played 13 seasons in the NHL with the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks, but retired in 2018 to focus on giving back to the Indigenous community.
“Throughout my life every Indigenous person that I’ve met has been touched by suicide. That is why I am here. My goal is to encourage all of us to look in the mirror and to understand what we can do differently to break the cycle,” said Tootoo.
He spoke about the pressure his brother was under growing up to financially support the family and how they both kept their emotions bottled up inside.
When Terence was on his way to becoming the first Inuk pro-hockey player, he got pulled over and charged for a DUI.
“He had no one to share with. He had no one to speak to. He was drunk. He was 22-years-old and he thought he had failed and saw nowhere else to go. My brother took his life that night. I never saw him again.”
By the time Tootoo was 27, he had been playing in the NHL for seven years and was living like a rock star, but was still carrying the anger and pain of his brother’s death.
“My life had spiralled out of control. It is important for me to call this out. When I hit my rock bottom, I learned two things; I learned that I needed to change and to let go of the anger and blame.”
In 2010, the general manager of the Nashville Predators, David Boyle, gave him an ultimatum to either accept help or end his NHL career.
“I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to acknowledge that I had a problem,” said Tootoo, adding that connecting with the land was the start of his recovery.
“My program brought me back to the one place where I've always felt whole. It brought me back to the land. It is on the land where money doesn't matter. It is on the land where we are in touch with ourselves. The simple things matter.”
He added that life as a husband and father now gives him hope and the strength to give back.
“Although I didn't win the Stanley Cup, I've won the Stanley Cup at home with my wife and two daughters.”
If you or someone you know is thinking about ending their life or are concerned about someone who is, you can call: