A former CEO of the Assembly of First Nations has called former Canucks winger Gino Odjick an "inspiration".
In a phone interview with the Straight, Bob Watts said it's sad to hear that his old friend Odjick is suffering from a terminal heart condition.
"He's shown that First Nations kids have the potential to go anywhere," Watts said. "They have the potential to make it to the NHL, to do anything they set their minds to. He’s proven that with heart and determination, you can accomplish just about everything.”
Odjick, 43, revealed in an open letter today that he has AL amyloidosis, a rare disease that produces abnormal proteins that cause a hardening of the heart.
Odjick, an Algonquin from Maniwaki, Quebec, wore a Canucks uniform for part or all of eight seasons in the 1990s and later played for the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, and Montreal Canadiens.
After his career ended in 2002, he sometimes accompanied Watts and former Assembly of First Nations national chief Phil Fontaine on visits to First Nations communities.
"In my experience travelling with Phil, you would go into a community and folks would want to share a memory with Phil or to get his autograph or to talk with him," Watts recalled. "But when Gino travelled with us, people just ran right by Phil and wanted to talk to Gino or get his autograph or shake his hand or share their favourite Gino memory with him. Gino was the centre of attention, there was no question about that.”
Watts, who teaches at Queens University, noted that Odjick twice visited his community at Six Nations in Ontario to speak to young people.
"There was one group in particular called Native Youth for Life," Watts said. "He came and talked to them about suicide prevention, living a good life, being a good person, being a good contributor to your community. He was an inspirational speaker. The kids loved him."
He added that he saw one person posted something on the Internet today saying that Odjick "got mobbed by everyone, including the bus driver".
"One time he was supposed to be here for an hour but he ended up being here for two-and-a-half hours because he sat around and talked with kids," Watts said. "He loved the young people and wanted to inspire them and to give people hope. You know, in a lot of communities there’s this sense of hopelessness for a lot of people, and Gino gave people hope."
When Watts came to Vancouver in November 2012 to deliver the annual Human Rights Lecture, Odjick tweeted that they were friends. Odjick also described Watts as tireless worker when it came to improving the lives of First Nations people.
From the perspective of the Harvard-educated Watts, the feeling is mutual.