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Nolan stays true to his First Nations roots

Last year, Jordan Nolan did something few hockey players do.

He took a political stance on Twitter.

Nolan vocalized his support for the tribal community in North Dakota as they protested the construction of an oil pipeline. The route of the pipeline would pass under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, with a high potential for damage to the tribe’s water supply. The route also would destroy areas of cultural significance, including sacred burial grounds.

It wasn't a particularly comfortable role for Nolan. He prefers to directly work with young hockey players in First Nations communities across Canada, not make political stands.

Still, it was important for him. And it continues to be important for the Buffalo Sabres forward who grew up on Garden River, First Nations, Ontario.

"It's starting to get more comfortable," Nolan said about speaking out on issues impacting First Nations communities. "I think a lot of young Native kids may look up to me and see me as a role model, so it's important for me to stand up for what I believe in and for issues that are important for me. It's about being a good role model and example for our youth.

"I’m not trying to get too political or anything like that. I just wanted to show my support to that community. I think if I speak up a little bit here or there, tweet something or comment on something, I'm just showing my support."

Nolan isn't one to wade into political debates, though there are plenty on both sides of the border. Monday, the United States celebrates Columbus Day, which in recent years has come under fire from those who feel the holiday honors an explore who is a symbol of genocide for native peoples. Since 1991 a number of municipalities have renamed the holiday Indigenous Peoples Day.

In his native Canada, the nation had a Truth and Reconciliation Committee three years ago to address the abuse and detrimental legacy of the Indian residential school system. The 150th anniversary of Canada this past summer highlighted ongoing issues between the government and First Nation people, including issues of funding for Indigenous schools and living conditions on reserves.

Nolan doesn't say much about those types of issues.

Instead, he works to help make a difference on the reserves himself.

He formed 3 Nolans with his father and former Sabres head coach Ted Nolan and his brother, Brandon. They run hockey schools across Canada to help First Nation youth develop hockey skills. But it's through hockey that they can teach bigger lessons -- like creating a healthy, active lifestyle and becoming a leader in their community.

"My dad didn't have a lot growing up and he somehow found a way to accomplish his goal of playing and coaching in the NHL and I think a lot of these kids just need to see someone that was in a familiar situation as them, from a small reserve, and just realize if you work hard for something, that it can come true," Nolan said. "That's the message that we're trying to tell these kids, that you might not have the most skill or the best surroundings, but if you work hard for something it usually happens for you."

And it can happen for a kid from a small First Nations reserve, who never forgets where he came from or the people still living there.

"We try to stay true to who we are, where we come from," Nolan said. "Even though I was living in L.A. for six years and now am here in Buffalo, we don't forget where we came from. We watch these kids and the challenges they face growing up and I think it's important for them to see us come in there."

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