World Jr. Championships player of the game awards feature art from 4 Wabanaki artists

Four First Nation artists designed and painted player of the game hockey sticks for the 2023 World Junior championship.

'These sticks will be cherished forever,' says Millbrook First Nation's Lorne Julien

A set of 20 hockey sticks for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Juniors. The corner of hockey blade has a green turtle beside a salmon, eagle and coyote.
Natalie Sappier designed these hockey sticks for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Juniors player of the game awards. Her design has a turtle that honors the Earth, an eagle to symbolize our dreams, a salmon to symbolize reliance and a coyote to symbolize playfulness.  (Natalie Sappier (Samaqani Cocahq)/Facebook)

Four artists piled hundreds of hours of work over the past month, all in an effort to showcase their art at this year's World Junior Hockey Championships in Halifax and Moncton

Lorne Julien from Millbrook First Nation, 61 kilometers north of Halifax, wanted to honour his family's connection to Mi'kmaq hockey sticks. The Mi'kmaw are believed to have crafted the first modern hockey sticks. 

Julien's research shows his great-grandfather, Joseph Julien, once worked as part of a collective in the early 1900's to fill an order of 12,000 hockey sticks for Eaton's.

Now, he hopes his family's story will be carried on when one of his sticks is presented to a "player of the game" winner.

Lorne Julien a Mi'kmaw man in a red shirt hold up two hockey sticks with his designs, a speeding eagle with an orange heart.
Lorne Julien is a Mi'kmaw artist from Millbrook First Nation and designed and painted player of the game hockey sticks for the World Juniors. He designed a speeding eagle with an orange heart for his sticks, that also includes Mi'kmaq motifs. The eagle represents love and protection and the orange heart represents residential school survivors and the ones that didn't make it home.  (Dan Froese Photography)

"It feels awesome because these sticks will be cherished forever," said Julien.

Between Monday and Jan 5, 2023, teams from around the world will play in 31 games in the 2023 International Ice Hockey World Junior Championships. A player from each team will earn "player of the game" recognition and take home an award package — including a hand painted stick.

Each stick features Wabanaki motifs, eagles depictions and each one shares a different story. Julien and three other artists from Atlantic Canada were selected to create the awards.

Emma Hassencahl-Perley is an Indigenous artist wearing a black top and brown hair.
Emma Hassencahl-Perley is a Wolastoqey artist that based her player of the game hockey sticks on archival images of birch bark art style. (Harvey Studios)

Emma Hassencahl-Perley, a Wolastoqey artist from Neqotkuk, Tobique First Nation 123 kilometres north west of Fredericton, said her design honours birch bark art from the region, something she's proud to take to the world stage.

"Our art should be everywhere," said Hassencahl-Perley, 27. "It's a reflection of who we are, it's where we come from, it's our visual language and it's deserving."

The Wabanaki confederacy consists of the Wolastoqey, Mi'kmaq, Abenaki, Peskotomuktahi and Penosbcot.

She said in the world of Indigenous art, sometimes work from Atlantic Canada gets lost. But the international tournament offers a chance for the entire world to appreciate the designs.

A purple hockey stick with an Indigenous man playing ice hockey, with a depiction of an eagle, star and snowflake.
Player of the game hockey stick for the 2023 IIHF World Juniors championship designed and painted by Emma Hassencahl-Perley. The images were inspired by archival birch bark art. (submitted by Emma Hassencahl-Perley )

Hassencahl-Perley said the moment one of those players receives a trophy designed by her she'll feel happy.

"It's like an honour for me at the same time that they are receiving an honour for their dedication and for reaching their goals," said Hassencahl-Perley.

Robin Paul, a Qalipu Mi'kmaw artist from Newfoundland lives in Welamukotuk, Oromoctou First Nation, 19 kilometers south east of Fredericton. She designed a stick featuring an eagle carrying the seven grandfather teachings: courage, love, wisdom, respect, truth, humility and honesty.

Robin Paul is an Indigenous artist wearing gold earrings, brown hair and an orange top
Robin Paul is a Qalipu Mi'kmaw artist who designed and painted 20 player of the game hockey sticks for the 2023 IIHF World Juniors. (submitted by Robin Paul. )

She said the artists had a week after being selected to paint 20 sticks each and she spent between 10 and 15 hours a day working to finish her work. 

Finishing them, she said, was a testament to her commitment. 

"I'm so proud of how far I was able to come with my artwork, I didn't think that I would be doing anything of the sort," said Paul, 40.

A painted Eagle on the blade of a hockey stick with feathers that include the seven grandfather teachings.
Robin Paul a Qalipu Mi'kmaw artist designed and painted player of the game hockey stick awards. (submitted by Robin Paul)

Paul's sons played hockey and the sport was a great way to bring her family together. To see the World Junior Hockey Championships taking a moment to showcase Indigenous talent filled her with pride.

"Having a focus on local Indigenous communities is just a great honour," said Paul.

"Not only do I paint for myself. I paint for my people, I paint for our land, and our water," said Natalie Sappier. (Submitted by Natalie Sappier)

For Natalie Sappier, a Wolastoqey artist also from Neqotkuk, painting the sticks was a way to honour her family who played hockey.

"I think of hockey as a community, when we gather, there's always laughter and it just symbolizes so much," said Sappier, 40.

Being selected filled her with joy and pride, she said, but she's also grateful for the chance to make her community proud.

"I paint for my people, I paint for our land, and our water,"  said Sappier 

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) partnered with Mawi'Art: Wabanaki Artist Collective to identify local talent.

Initially they were looking for one Mi'kmaw artist and one Wolastoqey artist, but the board of directors accepted all four applications they received based on the talent they saw.

Grant MacDonald, 2023 IIHF local event lead, said including Indigenous talent and stories was part of the local bid offer to host the games.

He said the IIHF wanted to remind people of the Mi'kmaw's connection to the sport.

"We want to educate and we want people to understand that this sport does have some unique roots in this part of the world,'' said MacDonald.


Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe