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'We're not respected': College hockey player from N.W.T. speaks out about 'racial slur'

Davina McLeod, who plays hockey with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Trojans, says they were playing against the Red Deer Queens when one of the opposing team's players called her a racist name.

Davina McLeod of SAIT Trojans women's hockey team says she's proud of where she's from

Davina McLeod, right, who plays for the SAIT Trojans, was subject to a racial slur during a hockey game recently. (Submitted by Davina McLeod)

A young Indigenous athlete from Aklavik, N.W.T., is speaking out after racist language was hurled at her at a hockey game.

Davina McLeod, who plays hockey with the Trojans at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), says on Feb. 8, her team played the Red Deer Queens and she got into a skirmish on the ice with a rookie player from the other team.

"Our sticks got tangled, our bodies got tangled — and she looked at me and she was like, 'Get up.' And we were kind of tripping back and forth and I said, 'I can't get up, you're on my stick.'"

That's when McLeod heard the racial slur. She said the other player called her a "dirty f––king Indian."   

"It just reiterates that we're not really welcomed as a part of Canada. We're not respected," said McLeod, whose family belongs to both the Inuvialuit and Gwich'in Nations of the western Arctic.

The way she said it to me was supposed to make me feel inferior to her.- Davina McLeod, Trojans hockey player

"The way she said it to me was supposed to make me feel inferior to her, which I really didn't like because I'm so proud of where I come from."

Player apologized, college says

Red Deer College later issued a statement about what happened.

Davina McLeod is from Aklavik, N.W.T. (Davina McLeod/Facebook)

"The incident involved a verbal exchange between both players using racially insensitive language ... The Queens hockey player took full responsibility for this behaviour by apologizing to the SAIT player and coaching staff in-person after the game and through a written letter delivered in the days following the incident," the statement said.

McLeod said the apologies rang hollow, in part because she says the Red Deer team responded to her complaint by accusing her of calling their athlete "white trash," which she denies.

"I've played in this league for four years. I have never come close to crossing a line like that," she said. 

A Red Deer College spokesperson said the student involved is declining to comment. The spokesperson added that the school's hockey team has received diversity training and the student has been given community service. 

'Contradictory allegations' inconclusive

SAIT made a formal complaint with the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, which oversees college sport in the province. In response, Red Deer College also made a complaint. 

Red Deer College told the athletic conference that other SAIT students made homophobic and threatening remarks to its team after the game. According to a ruling from the athletic conference, SAIT denied this.

In a statement, the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference says it "in no way condones the racial slur used by the [Red Deer College] player," but that it couldn't draw conclusions from otherwise "contradictory allegations."

Davina McLeod, right, a young Indigenous athlete from Aklavik, N.W.T., is speaking out after racist language was hurled at her during a game. (Submitted by Davina McLeod)
 

"It does appear that SAIT and [Red Deer College] students were involved in a verbal altercation of some sort following the conclusion of the game," wrote Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference commissioner Bill Hendsbee. "Tensions were still running high." 

Hendsbee wrote that he thought the Red Deer player's apologies were enough.

SAIT spokesperson Chris Gerritsen told CBC News his school is appealing Hendsbee's ruling.

"We support our students," said Gerritsen in a statement. "We know what matters is not only the statement but its impact."

Robert Schinke, a professor at Laurentian University who studies barriers to elite athletes, says when athletes like McLeod deal with racism, many often withdraw from the sports world.

"They land up disengaging … because it's an unhealthy place — meant to be a healthy place," he said. 

"We lose a lot of high-quality athletes due to things such as racism."