Indigenous culture scores at hockey games

Double win: Hockey, Indigenous culture combine at Jets, Moose games


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They are chances to celebrate the rich diversity of Indigenous culture at the good ol’ hockey game.

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They are chances to celebrate the rich diversity of Indigenous culture at the good ol’ hockey game.

The Winnipeg Jets WASAC Night and Manitoba Moose Follow Your Dreams Day games will take place on March 4 and March 5.

“Having the opportunity for Indigenous youth from all across Manitoba to experience seeing themselves reflected, celebrating pride in their culture, and to have that embraced by the public is amazing,” said Trevor LaForte, executive director of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre.

The program for the games — from the anthem to the background music —has been carefully crafted to showcase Indigenous culture.

True North Sports & Entertainment recently unveiled this year’s Jets WASAC Night and Manitoba Moose Follow Your Dreams Day jerseys, and presented LaForte with a cheque for almost $50,000.

It was raised from the auction of warm-up jerseys and sales of Indigenous-themed merchandise that will go to support Indigenous youth in Manitoba.

“(The centre) has worked with True North for over 20 years, and that relationship has blossomed into WASAC Night and Follow your Dreams Day weekend,” said LaForte.

This weekend, about 40 young people from remote Indigenous communities — including Pauingassi First Nation, Northlands Denesuline First Nation, Bunibonibee Cree Nation, Shamattawa First Nation, Minegoziibe Anishinabe First Nation, and the Métis Community of Duck Bay — will head to Winnipeg.

Youth will attend both hockey games and a Saturday morning at Camp Manitou, where they will skate with Sydney Daniels, a Winnipeg Jets college scout from Mistawasis First Nation in Saskatchewan.

“One of the challenges facing the Indigenous community is that we always hear stories of hardship and struggle, but for every story of hardship and struggle, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of stories of success, stories of achievement, and stories of resiliency,” said Kevin Chief, senior adviser of community development at True North.

“That’s what we’re doing right here, right now.”

WASAC Night and Follow Your Dreams Day, which are in their fifth year, continue to grow.

Chief changes the programs each year to include representation from different Indigenous nations because each has its own language, culture and teachings.

“Indigenous people are not monolithic,” he said. “There is so much culture and diversity from nation to nation, and I think that people don’t always realize that.”

The national anthem will be sung in the Dakota language by a school choir from the Dakota Plains Wahpeton Nation on Saturday night.

In 2022, the anthem was sung in Cree; in 2021, it was sung in Anishinabowin.

During the first intermission, fans will be treated to a rendition of the Métis anthem sung by Krista Rey.

Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, will participate in a ceremonial puck drop with 100-year-old Emma Dutiaume, accompanied by her daughter Barb. Later in the evening, Emma’s son Clint, an influential Manitoba Métis fiddle player who died last month, will be honoured.

“We thought, let’s do a special tribute to Clint and get his mom to drop the puck with Phil,” Chief said, adding that Dutiaume’s absence will bring a profound sense of sadness, as he had performed in the past four WASAC Nights with the North End Band.

Nikki Komaksiutiksak and her daughter, Caramello Swan, will perform Inuit throat-singing.

“To represent my culture using traditional practices that Inuit women used for millennia as a form of healing, interpretation of animals and the land, and to pass time means that people from all over the world will learn about a culture that has been misrepresented, not represented or excluded in many facets of life outside of Inuit Nunangat,” said Komaksiutiksak.

“It is extremely important to me that by using my traditional practices of throat singing, it can bring hope to many of our Inuit and the strength to know that Inuit can, and will be, a part of true Indigenous history.”

The Jets will sport their 2023-edition WASAC jerseys for the pre-game warm-up, while the visiting Edmonton Oilers will wear their own Indigenized warm-up jerseys that feature their Turtle Island logo. It will mark the first time two NHL teams will be on the ice together in their Indigenized jerseys.

Fresh off his performance on the stage of the legendary Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Peguis First Nation’s William Prince will perform at Saturday Night’s game. Fans will be treated to the sounds of the Spirit Horse Singers drum group during the puck-drop ceremony and the North End Band throughout the evening.

The Moose Follow Your Dreams Day game will begin at 2 p.m. and open with a ceremonial puck drop that celebrates several Indigenous youth community representatives and features Jets scout Daniels.

In the concourse, fans will have the chance to learn about Indigenous culture from local artists: Dreyden Flett will showcase appliqué ornamental needlework; Joanne Soldier will display her Ojibwa floral beadwork; and Claire Johnston will teach fans about Métis beading. Johnston will have a limited quantity of small beading packages available for youth to take home so they can try their own hand at it.

Preparing for the two events has been a year-round job for Chief.

“When you spend your time in community, you see things, you meet people, you talk to people,” Chief said, adding that being a square dancer with the Norman Chief Memorial Dancers puts him “in the ecosystem of how we celebrate, and how we come together as a community to heal.”

“This is the stuff I love. I love seeing kids excited, I’m glad we get this platform… It’s pretty amazing.”

Shelley Cook

Shelley Cook
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project

Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.

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