Indigenous leader feels NHL could do better job of acknowledging their experience with racism

While it's laudable to protest acts of violence against Black people, Terry Teegee, Regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, believes the NHL and the NHL Players' Association should also speak out against racism faced by Indigenous people.

League executive says Indigenous group will be included in counter-racism initiatives

Former Chicago player, and first Indigenous pro hockey player, Fred Saskamoose, centre, is honoured before an Edmonton Oilers game in 2017. According to the National Hockey League's front office, there has been at least 85 NHL players who were Indigenous or had Indigenous ancestry. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

It's laudable for the NHL and the NHL Players' Association to protest acts of violence against Black people, but the league and players should also speak out against racism faced by Indigenous people, says Terry Teegee, Regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations.

Teegee, a member of the Takla Lake First Nation, said Black Lives Matter "is a well worthy cause" supported by many in the Indigenous community because "we're cut from the same cloth" when it comes to dealing with racism.

The police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake sparked protests across North America and around the world. Last month the NHL and the NHLPA agreed to postpone two days worth of Stanley Cup playoff games as a response to Blake's shooting and the wider issues surrounding systemic racism, social injustice and police brutality.

"When this whole movement started with the killing of George Floyd and a number of Black folks in the United States, there was a real groundswell," Teegee said. "It's sad. There were very similar issues that happened [in Canada], such as the death of Colton Boushie, or other Indigenous people, [and] the only ones that really came out [to protest] were Indigenous people.

"I think it would have been very good if the general public came out and supported some of the causes that we're trying to raise to a higher level, because it's happening here."

WATCH | Former NHLer Aliu establishes minor hockey team for BIPOC youths:

BIPOC youth hockey team makes debut in Toronto

3 years ago
Duration 1:23
Former Canadian NHL hockey player Akim Aliu helped to establish a first of its kind BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) team that played in the tournament in the Westwood Arena in Etobicoke. 

Boushie, a 22-year-old from the Cree Red Pheasant First Nation, was fatally shot on a rural Saskatchewan farm. Gerald Stanley, the farmer who shot him, was acquitted of second-degree murder and a lesser charge of manslaughter.

There have been several incidents over the last few months of Indigenous people being killed by police, including Rodney Levi of the Metepenagiag Mi'kmaq Nation in New Brunswick and Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old from B.C., who was shot in Edmundston, N.B.

When the NHL playoff games were postponed, many of the comments reflected issues faced by Black players.

Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Knights said most hockey players "have never lived through some of the stuff Black athletes have."

WATCH | Chris George says battle for inclusion in hockey remains work in progress:

‘We have a lot of work to do:’ head of advisory board for Hockey Diversity Alliance

3 years ago
Duration 4:23
The Hockey Diversity Alliance, an initiative led by Black NHL players, was instrumental in getting the league to postpone games last week as part of a player-led boycott after the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Chris George, the head of the advisory board for the alliance, played in the Ontario Hockey League years ago and endured racism in hockey himself. Chris Glover spoke with George at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Kim Davis, the NHL's senior executive vice-president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs, said members of the Indigenous community will be included in any of the league's actions to counter racism.

"The resurgence of a global social justice movement occurred due to police brutality against the Black community in the United States [but] discrimination, racism and inequalities are not limited to this country or any one race," Davis said in an email.

"The league has, for some time, been meeting with Indigenous leaders to become better educated on the experiences and atrocities that have taken place in Canada, from residential schools to hateful and hurtful language or behaviour that has surfaced in youth and minor hockey."

There has been at least 85 NHL players who were Indigenous or had Indigenous ancestry, said Davis.

"We believe authentically connecting and engaging with Indigenous communities… is a key area for our growth and, frankly, a strategic responsibility for the sport moving forward," she said.

WATCH | Washington NFL franchise drops Indigenous team name:

Washington NFL team to change name after pressure from sponsors

3 years ago
Duration 2:08
Washington’s NFL team has announced it will drop the Redskins name after decades of complaints it was racist and growing pressure from sponsors.

Teegee said having sports organizations be more inclusive and better understand Indigenous people were among the calls for action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"I really believe that would alleviate some of the issues of not just participating [in sports] but also in the higher levels such as coaching and administration," he said.

When the football teams in Edmonton and Washington decided to change their names because of racist connotations, there were some calls for the NHL's Chicago team to follow suit.

Teegee said inappropriate team names must be dropped.

"If it's perpetuating stereotypes and hateful views of Indigenous people, they need to change," he said.


Jim has written about sports in Canada for more than 40 years for The Canadian Press, CBC Sports, CFL.ca and Swimming Canada. He has covered eight Olympic Games and three Paralympics. He was there the night the Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup and has covered 12 Grey Cups.

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