From Frog Lake First Nation to the big city, Cassidy Whitford-Dion is headed to McKendree University in Illinois to live the dream of becoming a nurse while playing woman’s Division 1 league hockey.
The 19-year-old phenom will be the first Indigenous person to attend the United States university. On May 27, Whitford-Dion signed on the dotted line surrounded by people who always believed in her to make her dream a reality.
“I would just like to say thank you to all of my friends and family who supported me throughout the years,” Whitford-Dion said. “I do appreciate each one of you who believed in me. I would also like to thank my parents who pushed me to always have a life goal and to never give up on it. And for always making sure that I did the right thing. I don’t know where I’d be without you guys. I come from the Frog Lake First Nation, but grew up in the Whitefish Lake #128 First Nation, and I am truly proud to be a part of each community.”
Whitford-Dion says she is honoured to be representing her communities on the national stage, but also she is proud to be representing her First Nation people.
“I want to thank Frog Lake Chief Greg Desjarlais, and Whitefish Lake Chief Stan Houle, for being a part of my big day,” Whitford-Dion said. “I promise to be a role model to the youth and try to inspire them to achieve their goals. Anything that you set your mind to, you can and will achieve. I committed to McKendree University, in Lebanon, Illinois, to further my education, and to continue doing what I love. I committed to play with the Bearcats for the 2021-2022 hockey season in the Division 1 league. I am extremely excited to get this next chapter of my life started.”
Road to her dream
The dream of playing hockey started when Whitford-Dion was about four years old and has been part of her entire life.
“I started playing hockey when I was four, and I started with just my close family and friends,” Whitford-Dion told Lakeland Connect. “All of my cousins and we made a hockey team together, like just our family, and that’s where it started.
Her first hockey coach was Whitefish Lake Chief Stan Houle who says he changed her pampers in between periods in the games she played.
Whitford-Dion comes from a family of ten brothers and sisters, therefore Chief Houle created a hockey team out of the family.
“She played with the boys and that’s how a lot of First Nations communities are,” Chief Houle said. “You have to stand up for yourself, and play with the boys and that’s how it is, there’s a girls team. So if you want to play. You have to play with the boys, and I saw her get bumped and I have seen her get up, you know, and I think that’s the important thing is to give them a chance, and allow them to grow as human beings.”
Fierce and fearless
Chief Houle says to other players facing off against Whitford-Dion, “If you’re coming across the blueline with your head down you better watch out.”
Whitford-Dion is fierce, she’s 5’7,160 lbs. and she is fearless. The skate scars on her legs tell a story of determination and refusal to quit until she was noticed by scouts. She’s been the top player on every team she has played for, that includes the boy’s teams.
“I played AAA in Lloydminster and started there, I also played Academy hockey,” Whitford-Dion said. “I moved to Ontario when I was 14 to play U 20 AAA. And that’s kind of where all of that started for me because I got scouted out there.”
Whitford-Dion says if you have a dream, follow that dream, and great things can happen.
“It’s really whatever you set your mind to, you’re going to achieve because that’s what I’ve been doing,” Whitford-Dion said. “I have a positive mindset and try not to let all the little things get to me.”
Dreams of becoming a nurse
Whitford-Dion has her mind on the prize and that’s university education.
“You can be the greatest hockey player out there but you need your education,” Whitford-Dion said. “That’s important. You need an education, to get your life started to get more opportunities, especially from being in a small community, and just being First Nation, it’s a really hard thing to do throughout life because you go through many obstacles. You know, education is the most important thing in life, and I want to be a nurse, and that’s what I’m going to school for.”
The education she has dreamed of is being paid for too.
“I received a $10,000 Dean’s Academic Scholarship,” Whitford-Dion said. “I also received a $20,000 hockey scholarship.”
The Dean’s Academic Scholarship is an annual amount over four years. All she has to do is focus on her studies and scoring goals.
Being in the big city will be a big change for Whitford-Dion but she says she will never forget where she came from.
“I’m looking forward to helping my community and giving back to my people,” Whitford-Dion said. “Just because I’m proud to be a First Nation. And I’m proud to be from my community, even though it’s small. I know everybody. We’re all with each other. So education is the main part of it hockey’s just there but education is my main focus.”
In part two of this story Lakeland Connect speaks with Whitford-Dion’s parents. We believe they have one of the greatest hockey family stories in Canada.