Nova Scotia

Racism in hockey still haunts Nova Scotia father

With hockey season in full swing, many players are excited to get on the ice. But for some aboriginal families, hockey can bring up negative memories of being singled out by racist comments in the rink.

'[My son] was really mad and he was crying and the whole works,' recalls Colin Peter-Paul

Minor hockey enrollment numbers are down across Canada. (Adam Carter/CBC)

With hockey season in full swing, many players are excited to get on the ice. But for some aboriginal families, hockey can bring up negative memories of being singled out by racist comments in the rink.

Colin Peter-Paul's sons are now in their early 20s, but he still recalls many incidents from when they were playing hockey at the age of 6 and 12. 

"To me, it was just like yesterday," he says.

"My son was complaining, he was saying, these guys are calling me 'wagon burner' and everything else. So my son went and fought with all of them. He was really mad and he was crying and the whole works." 

"I said, 'Alex, there's a lot of nice people in this world, but there's a few people in this world that have problems getting along with other races.' I said, 'This is probably an incident where the child's parents weren't taught the proper way to react to other races.'" 

Peter-Paul also remembers a different incident when he says his son was not being given a fair chance to play in a forward position. He says that disagreement led to a confrontation with another parent. 

"He grabbed me by the jacket and threatened me," Peter-Paul says. At first he thought about fighting the man, but decided not to because he had his children standing beside him. 

"I looked back at my son and I saw he had tears in his eyes, and I said, 'I'm going to have to do something else.'"

You get targeted and you get taunted and they get remarks thrown at them during the game.-  Millbrook Chief Bob Gloade

Instead Peter-Paul and his family called the RCMP to press assault charges, but he says the officer seemed to disbelieve him because of his race.

"The senior officer comes to us, and we were the ones that called the RCMP in the first place. And the senior officer just looks at us and says 'I'm going to go find out what the real thing that happened [was],' and he walked right by us and walked inside rink and he goes and sides with the other side right away." 

"I thought it was unbelieveable," Peter-Paul says. "Especially when most of the parents that were on that team saw what was happening and they just turned their back on me."

Encouraging kids to play

Chief Bob Gloade of Millbrook First Nation says he's heard of similar incidents over the years, the most recent being just a few weeks ago. He says sometimes a player with a higher skill level will be especially targeted. 

"You get targeted, and you get taunted, and they get remarks thrown at them during the game and sometimes it may be players from opposing teams...it can also happen from teammates as well," says Gloade, who says parents and coaches can also become involved in racial taunting. 

"It's not uncommon. But it's not every child that goes through that. But the fact that it still exists, and it's still there, and what they're doing about it is one thing. What I've experienced is, when it gets identified, sometimes they try to keep it low key and they try to not bring any big attention to it. But it still happens, and they try to brush it off as something that doesn't really exist, and they don't really address the issue." 

Gloade says there have been attempts in recent years to educate coaches, but that effort hasn't been made everywhere in the province. He says one thing the Millbrook band has been doing is setting aside money to get kids into many different types of recreational programs. Gloade feels that has made a big difference. 

"Now, for the first time in a number of years, we're starting to have kids in my community that are competing at higher levels and more of the elite programs in all different sports," Gloade says.  

"That is making a significant, positive step forward. That doesn't happen in every community, but I've noticed over the last several years it has been increasing. With more and more parents becoming active in coaching and the kids recreational activities, it gives the kids a much more positive outlook."

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