Nova Scotia’s Membertou First Nation is welcoming athletes from across the country, marking the first time the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships have been held in a Mi’kmaq community.

“It makes me proud. It’s great to see all the different cultures and all the different ethnicities coming together to play the sport we all love,” says Kevin Ledoux of Team Saskatchewan.

More than 600 hockey players representing every province and territory are lacing up their skates for the event this week.

“It’s been absolutely amazing. We have people in our shops, full of people, you see them in town, they’re walking everywhere and taking the buses everywhere, and they’re taking advantage of what Cape Breton has to offer,” says Membertou First Nation Chief Terry Paul.

Among the visitors is former NHL star Reggie Leach.

“I think I was the third or fourth First Nations person to play in the National Hockey League and I happen to have some really great years,” says Leach. “I probably was the first native superstar.”

Leach says he’s proud of what he accomplished as a professional hockey player, but is now more focused on what he’s doing off the ice.

“Talking to the youth about life choices and drugs and alcohol and I think that, to me, that’s a big step,” says Leach.

This is the 18th year for the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships, but it’s the first time the event has been held in a Mi’kmaq community, and in Membertou.

Paul feels the event is a good lead-up to the North American Indigenous Games, which will be held in Halifax and Millbrook First Nation in 2020. The event is expected to bring about 50,000 spectators to Nova Scotia and will be the largest multi-sporting event ever held in the province.

“That’s an amazing thing for the province to land such a prestigious games. It’s over 1,000 athletes,” says Paul.

The National Aboriginal Hockey Championships are the second major event to be held in Membertou in weeks; the Atlantic Junior B Hockey Championships were played in the area last month.

With the economic spinoffs estimated at $2 million, Paul hopes the community continues to attract national competitions.

The event wraps up on May 14.