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First Nations hockey team subjected to racist taunts, slurs at Quebec City tournament

A team of Indigenous hockey players, parents and supporters experienced racist taunts and slurs while at a hockey tournament in Quebec City.

Players ages 13 and 14 were called savages, told to go home

The First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team was subjected to racist taunts and slurs at a Quebec City tournament. (Submitted by Tommy H. J. Neeposh)

A team of First Nations hockey players say they were subjected to racist taunts and treated unfairly by referees at a recent spring hockey tournament in Quebec City. 

The Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA was held May 25 to 27. It included the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team, made up of players aged 13 and 14, from several Cree, Atikamekw and Algonquin communities in Quebec, as well as from First Nations communities in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

According to several parents, players and Elites manager Tommy H.J. Neeposh, players were called "savages" by at least one coach and a number of spectators.

They were also subjected to opposing players mimicking a stereotypical "war cry" on the ice, and players mocking the motion of a tomahawk as the First Nations players passed them near the dressing room off the ice.

"They were taunting our boys," said Neeposh, adding it was the worst he's ever experienced.

"[They] were doing Indian cries and the refs and coaches saw it."

Taunts captured on video

Neeposh filmed most of a semi-final match. He said the head referee called unfair penalties against the Elites. At one point in the video at least four First Nation Elites players are sitting in the penalty box.

At the end of the video a spectator can be heard saying, "gang de sauvages" or "gang of savages."

Tommy H.J. Neeposh, the manager of the First Nations Elite Bantam AAA team, says that his players were subjected to racist taunts and treated unfairly by referees at a recent spring hockey tournament. He broadcast one of the games on Facebook Live, capturing video of multiple Elites players going to the penalty box and one fan yelling a racist taunt. 1:23

Julien Marshall, 14, played in the tournament for the Elites and lives in Gatineau, north of Ottawa. His family is from Millbrook First Nation, a Mi'kmaq community in Nova Scotia.

He said the problems started in the first game of the tournament. After the game, which the First Nation Elites won by a score of 2-1, the opposing team started imitating a "war cry" by making a sound while hitting their mouths with their hands.

"I actually went really calmly and politely to one of the linesman," said Marshall. "I said, 'Are you seeing this? That is racist … this is wrong.'"

Marshall said the referee did nothing and sent him back to the blue line as if he "was in the wrong."

He said it left him angry and frustrated.

"The whole team was doing that in front of our faces."

Four First Nation Elites players sit in the penalty box at the same time. Team manager Tommy H.J. Neeposh says the tournament refereeing was unfair. (Tommy H. J. Neeposh)

Christina Gull, mother of 14-year-old Elite player Trent Gull Ottereyes from Waswanipi, said she was also hurt and angered by what she saw and heard.

"I was thinking, 'Does this still exist. Are we in the '80s or '90s?'" said Gull.

She said a DJ at the game played powwow music.

"They called us savages. One parent was saying, 'Go home.'"

Organizer says little can be done

The Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA is a spring tournament organized for the last 20 years and hosted by the Bulldogs de Quebec, a AAA team in Quebec City.

The Bulldogs organize four separate tournaments over the month of May, including the Coupe Challenge, according to Richard Sévigny, vice-president for the team and tournament organizer.

Sévigny said he wasn't on hand for the games the First Nation Elites players were involved in, but that he made special efforts to include the Elites team, even helping them register after the tournament was full.

He said the behaviour described in the allegations is unfortunate and deplorable but insisted there was very little he can do about behaviour on the ice and in the stands.

"What happens on the ice between young people, we can't control that," Sévigny said.

He said he was told some of the First Nations players were also yelling racially charged comments at the referee.

"Are the [Indigenous] players white as snow? I don't know. Were the [non-Indigenous] players a bit arrogant? We just organize the tournament."

As for the complaints against the referee, Sévigny said the most he could do would be to not hire him back for other tournaments.

Tournament was outside Hockey Quebec oversight

The Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA is part of the spring and summer hockey leagues in Quebec. As such, it isn't overseen by Hockey Quebec, the governing body of regular season ice hockey in the province, according to Yvan Dallaire, director of rules and regulations for Hockey Quebec.

He said Hockey Quebec's guidelines are very clear that racism will not be tolerated in games governed by those rules.

Tommy H. J. Neeposh is the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team manager. (Tommy H. J. Neeposh)

"We have at Hockey Quebec a code of ethics for every member — players, coaches and administrators. This code of ethics is part of our rule books and every member, every year, needs to sign the code of ethics."

Hockey Quebec says if similar allegations were made about a regular season minor hockey game under its jurisdiction, the organization could investigate, educate and sanction players or coaches.  

Neeposh said he filed a complaint about the referee and at least one coach with the organizer of the tournament. Neeposh said one assistant coach did apologize to the Elites, and Christina Gull said one of the spectators also apologized to her.

"Once we got into the room. I spoke to the boys. We said, 'You are going to face this for the rest of your lives,'" Neeposh said.