Manitoulin hockey players speak out over racist 'war cries'
The French school board says it's taking action after incidents at recent high school games
The conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario (CSPGNO) said it will be implementing compulsory sessions on cultural sensitivity in all of its schools, following incidents involving students from École secondaire Macdonald-Cartier at recent hockey games.
At games against the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) girls' hockey team, Manitoulin players said they witnessed racist gestures from players on the opposing team.
MSS team goalie Jorja Peltier said at two different games in March this year, she saw students doing "war cries."
"If we speak out and point out their actions then hopefully they're unlikely to do it again. Because I don't want any other person to experience racism. Because it's honestly just an awful feeling," Peltier said.
'I didn't want to believe it'
Peltier said the first incident she witnessed was at a game in at the Garson Arena on March 1. She was sitting on the bench during the game, she said, when she saw a student in the stands tapping their hand over their open mouth, in what appeared to be an imitation of a stereotypical "war cry."
"When I first glanced I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want to be that person to say hey this is racism. So I just kind of looked away. But then I noticed that my coaches and manager noticed. And that's when I knew for sure what it was," Peltier said.
At another game two weeks later against the same team, Peltier said she witnessed something similar.
"In that one, we'd just lost and they were cheering. And underneath the normal cheering you could hear the war cry again."
Jorja's friend and teammate, Danica Peltier, remembers the same thing.
"I just felt really sad that people could even do that to another team," Danica said.
Cultural sensitivity training
Weeks after the second incident, Jorja said it was still bothering her, so she decided to speak up, and wrote about what happened in an op-ed which she sent to local news outlets.
"Usually I'm a pretty introverted person and I'm not the one to speak out so I feel pretty powerful myself being able to do that. But it's also sad at the same time that I need to go out there because honestly people should be educated about cultural appropriation, cultural sensitivity in 2022," she said.
Following that letter, Jorja said she received a letter of apology from the French school board, which also outlined plans for cultural sensitivity training.
In a statement to CBC, the board's communications' director, Carole Dubé, said the board has worked with the school to identify the students involved, and that "[n]ecessary action has been taken to ensure this situation no longer presents itself." She did not elaborate on what that action entailed.
Dubé said the board has been producing cultural sensitivity videos for students and staff for several years and is "committed to promoting respect for all cultures." She said this incident will push those efforts forward.
Jorja Peltier said she thinks cultural sensitivity training is "a really good first step." She hopes students involved will recognize the effect of their actions.
"I hope they know it really hurt. Like it just ruined my hockey season and it's been bothering me … since it happened. So like just be careful with your words and yeah, those actions they hurt for a long time."