Winnipeg Jets owners reverse stance, ban fake headdresses at games

Winnipeg Jets officials are retracting an earlier statement about not banning fake headdresses at home games.

After meeting with First Nations leaders, team had change of heart about allowing fake headdresses

This is the fake headdress that was worn to the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks game on March 29, 2015, at Winnipeg's MTS Centre. (Jeff Stapleton)

Winnipeg Jets officials are retracting an earlier statement about not banning fake headdresses at home games.

Last season, when the Jets faced the Chicago team in Winnipeg in March, a Blackhawks fan sported a fake headdress.

Jordan Wheeler, a longtime Winnipeg Jets fan and season ticket holder, filed a complaint with the Jets. He wanted the team to ban headdresses at hockey games. 

Earlier this week, True North staff said they would not ban headdresses at home games because it was an isolated incident. At the time, Scott Brown, the director of corporate communications for the organization that owns the team, said the decision was based on the fact no other NHL teams had a policy on it. 

But the team has since shifted its position.

"It's not that we were anticipating it to happen again. It's just something we wanted to clarify," Brown said.

"Given the attention the issue is getting today, it's probably one that we wanted to have a clear understanding of."

Brown says the move comes after owner Mark Chipman met with prominent indigenous leaders, including Assembly of Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak and MLA Kevin Chief. 

"After gaining probably a better understanding of that significance we have decided that going forward we will no longer be allowing costume and non-authentic headdresses into MTS Centre for hockey events," he said. 

Representatives for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames confirmed they have no policy around the issue, nor have any similar incidents about fake headdresses been reported at the Air Canada Centre or the Saddledome when the Blackhawks were in town.

Winnipeg Jets taking lead, says Grand Chief

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs appreciates the move by the team's owners.

"I think it is a huge sign of respect that Mr. Chipman would call me to get insight," Nepinak said by phone from Kamloops, B.C.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says his organization is thankful the Winnipeg Jets are taking the lead and setting a precedent within the NHL. (CBC)
Nepinak says the headdress is so spiritually significant that even he would not wear his to a sporting event unless warranted by a ceremonial purpose.

"Such as a prayer, an honour song, if the drum is present. Then I could bring an authentic headdress to the event if protocols were followed. And that normally means I am responding to a passing of tobacco," he said.

"But just for the purposes of showing up with my headdress, there is no way that would ever, ever happen."

His organization is thankful the Winnipeg Jets are taking the lead and setting the precedent within the NHL.

"I am between a rock and a hard place, because I do believe that it is disrespectful to appropriate imagery in that way," he said.

"I am also empathetic to those people who clearly don't have an understanding about how these sacred items become to be in our care."

Showing courage 

Jordan Wheeler, the fan who initially filed a complaint, is also impressed with the change of tune.

"It shows some courage on their part," Wheeler said.

"They are all smart people. They can see the tides. They can see the pressure the NFL team in Washington is under …With times, they all do evolve."

The NFL team in the U.S. national capital is called the Washington Redskins.

When asked whether this restores his faith in his team, Wheeler was clear he would always be a Jets fan (and critic).

"I will feel better about my team if they have less neutral zone give-aways tonight," he said.

"But I feel better about my game-day experience, for sure."

About the Author

Tiar Wilson

Tiar Wilson was raised in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Manitoba. She's reported for APTN National News, CBC Winnipeg, and CBC North. Tiar is also involved with CBC's database of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and continues to share the stories of these women, their families and communities. She's currently reporting for CBC Aboriginal. @yourpaltiar.