Tootoo, the NHL’s first Inuk player, will share his story with students

By Gabrielle Piche

Red River College students will have the chance to hear a former NHL player speak about mental health and well being this February.

Jordin Tootoo, the NHL’s first Inuk hockey player, will give a talk in the South Gym at RRC’s Notre Dame Campus on Wednesday, Feb. 5. Doors will open at 11:30 a.m., where people can grab a seat and a free slice of pizza. Tootoo will be introduced at noon. 

The hockey player will be available for a meet and greet at 1 p.m. following his presentation. All RRC staff and students can attend the talk for free, and those who can’t make it can watch a live stream at

Tootoo will share his story of mental illness and recovery. Tootoo grew up in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, a community affected by substance abuse, according to Tootoo’s website.

TooToo tells the story of his career and struggles in his autobiography, All The Way. /JORDINTOOTOO.COM

Tootoo’s older brother committed suicide, and years later, Tootoo checked himself into rehab for alcohol addiction. Now, the former NHL player uses his platform to raise awareness about mental illness and recovery.

“I think that what he brings will really resonate with students because of that connection with struggle – we’ve all had some sort,” said Breanna Sawatzky, a mental health coordinator at Red River College.

Sawatzky and her colleagues in the Healthy Minds Healthy College initiative began planning for Tootoo’s visit over a year ago. 

“He’s very in-demand,” Sawatzky said.

The initiative’s organizers have brought guests to the college to speak about mental health over the past four years. They try to book people who appeal to a variety of students.

“You think to yourself, ‘Would I take an hour out of my day to listen to this person talk?’” Sawatzky said. “And sometimes the bar is pretty high for that because students are so busy.”

Tootoo was an ideal pick because he’s Indigenous, he’s relevant to students interested in sports and he’s well-known.

“If (celebrities) share those stories about their own experiences and their own wisdom they’ve learned, it really can normalize mental health and mental health struggles,” Sawatzky said.

Jules Lavallee, RRC’s Elder-in-residence, remembers watching Tootoo play for the Brandon Wheat Kings before being drafted to the big leagues.

“When he was scouted and accepted to play in the NHL, it was a source of pride that I felt,” Lavallee said.

Lavallee is Métis, and Tootoo is Inuit. Though they’re different, both groups have faced racism and discrimination, and Lavallee said he’s happy to see Tootoo using his platform for good.

“In order to be a total, healthy human being, you need to express how you feel,” Lavallee said. “I grew up thinking that I shouldn’t express my emotions.”

Lavallee, 78, said it’s important for people to connect with and express their emotions. He said Indigenous students can visit elders for help. There are also wellness counsellors for Indigenous students.

Mental Health handouts are available in the counselling centre in P210 at the Exchange District Campus.

RRC students struggling with mental health can visit counsellors for free on campus. There are five full-time counsellors at the Notre Dame Campus; two at the Exchange District Campus, with one more coming; one at the Language Training Centre; and counsellors in every regional campus.

Students can book appointments online or at a campus counselling office. 

The college also has same-day appointments for students in crisis. Students who have suicidal thoughts or have just experienced something traumatic can visit a counselling office and ask for a same-day crisis appointment.

Students who are on the college’s health plan have up to $1,000 worth of coverage for psychologist or social worker appointments.

Students wanting to speak with a counsellor can book an appointment online or at Student Support Services./GABRIELLE PICHÉ

Learn more about Jordin TooToo at