Indigenous

First Nations artists score big with beaded medallions and jersey design for Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs sported jerseys featuring a Woodland-style design and wore medallions made by a team of beaders from Wiikwemikoong during Indigenous Celebrations Day on Saturday.

Those beaded medallions? It took a team of 6 about a month to finish them

Indigenous-style beaded medallions featuring the logo of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club.
Crystal Kimewon says she worked in an assembly-line style fashion and needed the help of five other women to finish beading medallions for the Toronto Maple Leafs on time. (Submitted by Crystal Kimewon)

They needed to bead 30 medallions in 30 days for every player of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team — but each medallion takes between 10 and 15 hours to complete. 

In a quasi-assembly line fashion, Crystal Kimewon beaded 20 of them herself along with a team of five other women all from Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island in Ontario.

The Toronto Maple Leafs players sported their customized medallions for Indigenous Celebration Day on Saturday night at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto along with Woodland-style logos on their jerseys during warm-up.

It was the biggest project Kimewon ever co-ordinated.

"It really was an honour to be able to bead these for the team, and an honour to represent our community in this capacity," said Kimewon on Monday.

Crystal Kimewon, from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory in Ontario, beaded 30 medallions for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2023.
Kimewon said beading 30 medallions for the Maple Leafs was one of the largest projects she'd ever co-ordinated. (Submitted by Crystal Kimewon)

Back in December, they were approached by organizers from Little NHL, an all-Indigenous youth hockey tournament, to participate in Saturday's Indigenous Celebration Day. 

She said Mark Fraser, manager of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Leafs, told her the team wanted the players to understand the magnitude and the significance of the gifts they received. 

To ensure cultural protocols were followed, the team reached out and had Elder and Ojibway translator Phyllis Williams-Kimewon provide background on the traditional meaning behind the medallions. 

Tara Kiwenzie and Lisa Lavalle, two indigenous women, helped complete beaded medallions custom-made for the Toronto Maple Leafs in January 2023.
Tara Kiwenzie and Lisa Lavallee were among the women who helped Kimewon complete the beaded medallions. Theresa Wemigwans, Quinn Organ and Alaya Kimewon also contributed work in the project. (Submitted by Crystal Kimewon)

"Beading is our medicine, a medicine which we are sharing with each of you. Also, a symbol of wealth and prosperity," an insert given to the players with their medallion reads. 

"We hope that you will wear our beadwork with great honour, the same honour we each held and continue to hold, in being able to bead these medallions for each of you."

Artist's jersey design highlighted

Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell of Wasauksing First Nation, about 180 kilometres north of Toronto, was reeling when he saw the Leafs wear a jersey he designed.

"It was really surreal and breathtaking. It felt like a dream come true," Rushnell said. 

"One of the biggest hockey teams promoting the Indigenous people in a good way was really beautiful." 

Rushnell, 23, said he wanted to incorporate Indigenous culture and the Woodland-style artwork of the Ojibway people in his work. The thunderbird patch on the jersey shoulder represents strength, he said.

Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell an Indigenous artist, holds a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey he helped design in his hands on Saturday Dec. 7 in Toronto Ont.
Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell says he worked with the Toronto Maple Leafs through December to come up with the design the team wore during warm-ups on Saturday night. (Submitted by Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell)

He said he worked as an artist for the past five or six years. His mom was adopted during the Sixties Scoop and he was raised off-reserve in Belleville, Ont. 

His art, which was discovered on social media by the Leafs, helps him connect with his roots.

Rushnell said his family, who are major Leaf fans, were proud and ecstatic to see his art during warm-ups on Saturday and being worn by the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, on Sunday. 

The jerseys the Toronto Maple Leafs wore on Saturday night will be auctioned off, with the proceeds to be donated to the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre. 

Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares warms up in a limited edition jersey designed by Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist, for Indigenous celebration day.
Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares warms up in a limited edition jersey designed by Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist, for Indigenous celebration day, before NHL hockey action against the Detroit Red Wings in Toronto. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

By Monday night, the bid for the jersey worn and signed by the team's alternate captain Auston Matthews was at $12,000.

For Rushnell, a social media post from Indigenous Tourism Ontario, captured what Saturday's celebrations were about.

"Representation matters and seeing Indigenous cultures and people put in front and centre and celebrated at a national-level major sporting event was life-changing for the children in attendance," the post said.

"We want to inspire and instill pride in those who have been ignored and excluded for far too long." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Candace Maracle is Wolf Clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a laureate of The Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her latest film, a micro short, Lyed Corn with Ash (Wa’kenenhstóhare’) is completely in the Kanien’kéha language.

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