'I'm just lost right now': First Nation's hockey coach suspended for social media post she didn't write

The coach of a First Nation’s bantam hockey team is fighting to get back on the ice after being suspended for a profanity-laden social media post she didn’t write.

Minor hockey association blames Nadine Anderson for man's profane reaction to video of disrespectful fan

Nadine Anderson, president of Fairford First Nation minor hockey, stands outside of the arena she's been banned from entering until December. (Submitted by Nadine Anderson)

The coach of a First Nation's bantam hockey team is fighting to get back behind the bench after being suspended for a profanity-laden social media post she didn't write.

Last Friday, the Interlake Minor Hockey Association suspended Fairford Minor Hockey president and co-ed bantam coach, Nadine Anderson, and banned her from all league arenas during practices and games until December.

Hockey Manitoba says they were told Anderson shared an unacceptable post on her Facebook page, in violation of the organization's policy governing respect in sport. She denies that.

"I can't let them do this to me, because my kids need me. They need me now more than they've ever needed me before," Anderson said in a telephone interview from Pinaymootang First Nation, also known as Fairford, a community located along Highway 6, about 220 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

The Pinaymootang Knights are in the midst of the bantam playoffs and Anderson's team has a shot at the league championship. 

She said she received notice of her suspension via email last Friday night, on her way back from a playoff meeting.

"I was very upset. I was actually on my way home and I burst into tears. I thought about the kids, the Saturday night game," she said, getting emotional.

It all began with a heated game on Feb. 15, when the Knights got into a fight with another team from a small town closer to Winnipeg.

Anderson posted video of the fight and a confrontation afterward to her Facebook page. Parents are seen yelling from the sidelines at the players and coach. 

At one point, a man yells "I'll keep covering your welfare cheque" in the direction of the Fairford fans, all of whom were Indigenous.

Anderson said she shared the video to express her disappointment with the conduct of the other team's fans.

Video shared on social media

Her video was widely shared online, eventually prompting a Winnipeg man to write an obscenity-laden post along with a screen grab of a man from the video who allegedly made the welfare comment. 

Anderson said she scrolled over what the man wrote online, but didn't share it. His post, which was shared about 200 times, has since been deleted.

The man who wrote the post told CBC News he used the language he did because he was triggered by the video, after facing racism in hockey growing up.

Dave Underwood, president of the Interlake Minor Hockey Association, wrote in the letter to Anderson that the board of directors made the decision to suspend her after being made aware of "an inappropriate social media post" she had made in contravention of Hockey Manitoba's social media policy, and attached a screen grab of the post the man had written, without a name attached to it. 

After learning on social media of Anderson's suspension, the man's sister emailed Underwood to explain the situation and ask that Anderson be reinstated as coach.

"It's very unjust how they handled it," said Alyssa Monkman. She said she reached Underwood by phone, and said he told her it was Anderson's video that got her suspended because it violated their policies.

"Then why did he put my brother's post in the letter?" she asks, adding there is nothing wrong with sharing the video either. She too is an Indigenous hockey mom, though she's never met Anderson.

"We're going to advocate, advocate and protest. And make society know about the racism we face. There's no policies when it comes to addressing these issues. We're going to tackle those head-on."

Anderson, pictured here on the upper left with her team when they were peewees, says her team needs her. (Submitted by Nadine Anderson)

While Underwood declined comment to CBC, Hockey Manitoba said Anderson could appeal the decision. 

"We want to make sure that all our members are participating in a safe environment," said Peter Woods, executive director for Hockey Manitoba.

Woods told CBC he doesn't have all the information regarding the situation, but said he was told by Underwood that Anderson had shared the profanity post online.

"We don't want to see the type of posts that are disruptive on Facebook pages, which could be interpreted as bullying or disrespectful. You're exposing yourself to all sorts of consequences."

Anderson said she was unable to reach Underwood to ask for evidence supporting the decision. She's working with a lawyer on her appeal and said she hopes it's reviewed soon, as there are critical games coming up this weekend.

"I'm wanting to show my team that if they think something's not right that they need to stand up for themselves. We can't be put aside anymore."

She said prior to her suspension, Underwood and the president of the opposing team apologized at a playoff meeting between coaches, presidents and boards of directors for the team's fans' conduct on Feb. 15. The man who made the welfare comment apologized as well, although not directly, she said, adding she'd still like to talk to him.

Players say suspension not fair

Anderson's suspension also applies to her assistant coaching duties for Fairford's two other teams as well as an upcoming First Nations hockey tournament. The Fairford Minor Hockey Association encompasses about 3,000 youth registered from Pinaymootang and surrounding communities.

"For them to take that away from me over a screen shot of somebody else's post? My entire community is on the line. Hockey is all that we have here," she said.

Players on her team say they don't feel the decision is fair.

"It's very different [without her]. When Nadine would drive us, it would feel different when she was there, on the bench," said Pinaymootang Knights forward Zachius Courchene, 13.

"We'll just try and make a win for her," he added before his game Thursday night.

Anderson quit her job as a CFS worker in January to volunteer as a hockey coach full-time. She said it's her life, and she finds joy in coaching the kids, driving whoever needs a ride to the arena as well as managing all three teams.

"I'm their everything. I'm their transportation, I'm their coach. They call me Mama Coach, that's my name. That's been my name for the past seven years," she said.

"I'm just lost right now. This is my life. This is what I do. This is what I've been doing for years."

Anderson says she worries most for her own team, whom the decision ultimately penalizes.

"They feel defeated and they don't deserve to have that feeling. This is not their fault."

Despite Anderson's absence, the visiting Knights beat Gimli 10-5 Thursday night to advance to the next round of the playoffs.