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Will the royals play hockey in Yellowknife?

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are saluted by a RCMP as they arrive in Yellowknife, N.T. during their tour of Canada on Monday July 4, 2011.


Through the drums, dance and hand-stitched traditional dress of the Inuvialuit, William and Kate will get a glimpse of life on the remote shores of the Beaufort Sea. On the hockey stick of a teenager from a remote outpost, a taste of the northern birthplace of Canada's sport. And in the twigs wagered and lost by Dene youth, a feel for the aboriginal culture of Great Slave Lake.

The Royals landed just after 7:30 local time in Yellowknife Monday evening. Under rainy skies, they disembarked and shook hands along a receiving line, carrying their own umbrellas and receiving flowers from local children. They then immediately left, retiring to their undisclosed residence in the Yellowknife area.

This leg of their Canadian tour, however, isn't about the Northwest Territories' capital. The city is, instead, a lens. Through it, the Prince and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, will see bits of the culture of 33 communities, seven aboriginal groups and 43,000 people spread across a territory nearly five times the size of the United Kingdom.

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What they see here can't be seen anywhere else in the world.

"It's real, true, homegrown tradition," said Debbie Gordon-Ruben, co-ordinator of the Moonlight Dancers from Paulatuk, a remote community of about 300 people on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. "Our culture and traditions are all displayed in the songs."

Premier Floyd Roland will accompany the royal couple. "Clearly, for the North, it will be a memorable occasion, an opportunity to showcase our unique cultures and the environment we live in," he told The Globe and Mail. "And I think it strengthens the relationship the Royal Family has had with the North over these many years."

That relationship includes visits from the Queen and other royals dating back decades, tours that left an impression on the people of the vast, sparsely populated territory. Some aboriginal leaders here feel a connection to the Crown they say is closer than that of Canadians in the south, one forged by the signing of treaties.

If there is a thread that connects the performances lined up for the royal couple, it's aboriginal youth and all that's being done to reconnect the generation with the culture of their ancestors. The dancing and drumming is popular in many communities, particularly those in the Beaufort Delta in the far reaches of the NWT, but was revived in Paulatuk by Michael Green, 24, with a distinctly local flavour. "That way, the whole world knows it's from up north," Mr. Green said proudly.

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The royals will see hand games of Dene youth living around Yellowknife. It's gambling: Teams drum and chant while taking turns guessing in which hand a rival player is hiding a rock, coin or small item. A correct guess earns a team an item (last week, they practised using small sticks).

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"It's an old tradition, a gambling game. They gambled for stuff they needed on the land," said Fraser Goulet, 23, a youth worker and hand games player.

"They're slowly getting into it. They weren't really into the culture," said Brent Betsina, 15, of his fellow Dene youth. The game, however, has caught on, and he's eager to show it to the royal couple. "Just drumming for the Prince. Not nervous," the teen said, shrugging.

The slate of events is designed to show off the territory to the world in hopes of luring them there, said Shaun Dean, who has led the territory's royal-tour planning.

"We wanted to showcase the diversity of the Northwest Territories, our aboriginal culture and heritage, and really show it off as a premier tourism destination," Mr. Dean said.

One question still faces the royals for their tour Tuesday, with implications across the country - will they play hockey?

Two youth groups will play road hockey, though there are strict rules - no slashing, no high-sticking, no slap shots, and the game ball can't be given to the royal couple. It's too dirty.

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Instead, they'll get Team Canada jerseys. Mr. Roland, an avid hockey player, will stop and take some shots on goal. Whether William and Catherine - once an avid field hockey player - will grab a stick remains to be seen.

"I think Kate will," predicted Lyndon Kakfwi, 21, a hockey player from Fort Good Hope. The town lies on the territory of the Sahtu Dene and Métis, which also includes Deline, which claims to be the birthplace of hockey. "I'm nervous [about]the whole thing," he said, smiling.

"I think it's a world-class opportunity," said Gary Schauerte, a government manager reassigned to plan the hockey game. "You don't get much more international than this for the city of Yellowknife."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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