National Indigenous Peoples Day - A History of Canadian Indigenous Peoples and Hockey

June 21, 2022 | Written by Katie Lakusta

On June 21, Canada celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day—a day where we observe the summer solstice (a very important event in many aboriginal cultures) and spend some time learning about the experiences, cultures, and history of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples of Canada.

Although considered a common form of entertainment in the modern Canadian scene, and even internationally across every continent, hockey was not always in the form that we see it as today. In addition to ensuring you are outfitted in the best gear for your game, we at The Hockey Shop believe it’s important to take today to acknowledge the long history of hockey and its connection to the Indigenous peoples.

This article will offer a brief discussion of the history of hockey and its connection to Indigenous players. If you want to learn more about or read more in-depth conversations on the topic, feel free to take a look at the sources listed at the end.


Photo by Andreas Wagner on Unsplash


By Unknown author - http://www.birthplaceofhockey.com/images/picorigin/mmsticks.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1334336

A Lost History

The origin of hockey and its relationship to the Indigenous peoples of Canada is not exactly a recent discovery; quite a bit of this history was passed down through generations via oral communication and storytelling depicting hockey and similar games being played and enjoyed. Unfortunately, the erasure of much of this history occurred through colonialism, whitewashing, classism, segregation, and the historical European emphasis on written history weighing more than oral storytelling.

The specific origins may be a bit hazy, but most recent historians agree on the same or a similar concept: the first instance of “hockey” was likely in the 1600s in Nova Scotia, when European settlers observed Mi’kmaq people (pronounced “mig-mahk” with a very soft “k” sound, singular “Mi’kmaw”) playing a hockey-like game. At the time, this game was referred to as “Ricket” in newspapers, and it was played in a field with wooden sticks and a ball (accounts of this early “puck” having been frozen road apples, cherrywood, and rubber once the settlers imported the material). To the Mi’kmaq, this game was Oochamkunutk.


Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

Influence & European Colonization

We’re not entirely sure who or what peoples invented the first forms of hockey exactly, whether it was the Mi’kmaq or if they borrowed the game from yet another Indigenous community. It’s no secret that the European settlers historically were sticklers for pilfering and erasing Indigenous culture at the time, and the earliest Indigenous games were no exception. The eventual game of hockey finds its roots in many different games and under many titles, including Duwarken, Oochamkunutk, Alchamadijik, Hurling, and Hurley (on ice).


By Eaton's - Eaton's Catalogue, 1904, p.237, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35154010

Road to a Game on Ice

It is suggested that the game was developed with elements from a game called Duwarken, meaning “ball played on ice.” As described by Indigenous scholar, Dr. Jerry Lonecloud, this was a traditional Mi’kmaw game involving elements very similar to what we know now as hockey and even baseball.

In the Mi’kmaw language, Oochamkunutk refers to ball games played on the field and ice, and these games eventually merged with the European game, Hurling, into the next game: “Hurley on Ice.” After Hurley came Alchamadijik, which was a term the Mi’kmaq used to describe people playing the hockey we know today. The Mi’kmaq can also be credited as some of the first to construct hockey sticks, at the time anglicized as the “Mic-Mac hockey stick.” These sticks are hard to come by, with very few written accounts and surviving sticks dating back to the mid-1600s.

This is all a very simple account of what we know about the development of hockey, since much of our recorded history before centred around the early Original Six hockey teams. Sadly, our lack of information is largely due to colonialism and the mass erasure of Aboriginal culture.


Indigenous Hockey Players

Despite strong evidence that hockey found its origins in various Indigenous games, history, and game development, only around 80 Indigenous players have made it to the NHL or other professional leagues. As it is with many minorities, this is generally due to a historical lack of resources and opportunities. Amendments in this field are rather recent but ongoing. The following list is not exhaustive and includes both current and former hockey players of Indigenous descent.


Photo by Klim Musalimov on Unsplash


Fred Sasakamoose

Fred Sasakamoose is widely recognized as the first Indigenous player to reach the NHL. In the late 1930s, he was taken from his home in Whitefish Lake, Saskatchewan at just six years old to attend the St. Michael’s residential school in Duck Lake, SK. The conditions at St. Michael’s were terrible—the only enjoyment he got was from playing hockey. He moved on to play Juniors in Moose Jaw, SK, then eventually the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Although his total games only amounted to 11 and he never scored a goal, he paved the way to the NHL for many future players of Indigenous descent, particularly with his history as a player and in his work promoting opportunities for young athletes. Sadly, he passed away on November 24, 2020, due to complications with COVID-19.


By Kristina Servant from Montreal, Canada - Carey Price - Canadiens de MontréalUploaded by Carport, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58331505

Carey Price

Carey Price is very proud of his Nuxalk and Dakelh heritage. Born in Vancouver, BC, he moved to Anahim Lake, BC and had to drive about five hours out to and five hours back from Williams Lake three times a week just to play hockey. His dad, an ex-professional goaltender himself, eventually bought a small plane so they could fly instead of drive. Price’s mother, Lynda Price, is the current chief of the Ulkatcho First Nation and was the first woman to be elected to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs board of directors.

Price is a highly renowned goaltender in the NHL, with an extensive career with the Montreal Canadiens, multiple years in the WHL and AHL, as well as some championship wins on the international stage. He was also the first Indigenous goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy, and the first goalie overall to win the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award. He is a big advocate for First Nations youth becoming leaders in their communities.


By Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA - IMG_3907, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35781761

Jordin Tootoo

The story of Jordin Tootoo is an inspiring one of recovery and battling against the odds. As a young boy, Jordin, along with his older brother Terence, learned to play hockey from their father out in Rankin Inn, Nunavut. The two parted ways when Jordin travelled to Alberta to play Bantam AAA and Terence moved to Manitoba to play Junior A. The future was looking bright for the Tootoo brothers. Then, tragedy struck—Terence, just 22 at the time, took his own life after being arrested for drunk driving in August 2002.

After his brother’s death, Jordin focused much of his time on hockey—making it to the NHL as the first Inuk player, and additionally the first player from Nunavut—but had to deal with various substance abuse issues along the way. This led to his eventual and willing admittance into the NHLPA’s substance-abuse program in 2010, a development that he says completely changed his life. He documents much of his life and the effects of this treatment in his book, All the Way: My Life on Ice.

Tootoo is not just an advocate and leader in the Inuit communities and Nunavut for hockey, but also nationally as a mentor, writer, and spokesperson on mental health, suicide prevention, and substance abuse. He started the Team Tootoo fund in 2011, with various mental health and suicide awareness initiatives. In 2015, he was nominated by the New Jersey Devils for the NHL Foundation Player Award, but he unfortunately didn’t win.


Vancouver Canucks Twitter – June 20, 2014

Gino Odjick

Native to the Algonquin reserve of Kitigan Zibi, QC, and a local fan-favourite and hero in Vancouver due to his time with the Canucks, Gino Odjick was much more than just a “tough guy.” Beyond having a whopping 2127 penalty minutes with the Canucks (a club record), he was also viewed quite favourably by his friends, family, teammates, and coaches. Former teammates and coaches have described him as loyal, energetic, positive, humble, and just an overall great teammate and friend during his time with the Canucks. All these qualities followed him even after his career.

Odjick was and is highly active in the First Nations community during and after his career. He credits Pat Quinn and Ron Delorme as people who supported him the most in visiting First Nations communities and hosting hockey schools and events in these areas. Odjick was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame on June 9, 2022, alongside former teammate, Kirk McLean.


By Courtney - https://www.flickr.com/photos/26230969@N08/48778652451/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97476859

Brigette Lacquette

Brigette Lacquette has set a respectable number of firsts in her career, specifically centred around her Indigenous heritage. Solidifying her leadership in the First Nations community, the Dauphin, MB native was the first Indigenous player to make Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team. She had previously been a part of the U18 Women’s team in 2008, where she won silver in 2009 and gold in the 2010 World Championships. With Canada’s National Team, she has helped Canada win both silver and gold medals. 

After graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, she entered the CWHL and played for Calgary, having been drafted 24th overall in 2015. She won the Clarkson Cup with Calgary in 2015. In 2021, Lacquette was also hired to scout for the Chicago Blackhawks, becoming the first Indigenous woman to ever scout for an NHL hockey club.


Sources

History

Bennett, Paul W. “Reimagining the Creation: The ‘Missing Indigenous Link’ in the Origins of Canadian Hockey.” Journal of the History of the Atlantic Region/Revu d’histoire de la région de l’Atlantique, 18 January 2017. Source link

Editors of Native Hockey. “History.” Native Hockey, Native Hockey, 25 Oct. 2015. Source link

Girshin, Natasha. “The forgotten indigenous roots of hockey.” The Brandeis Hoot, 18 March 2022. Source link

Norman, Mark. “Canadian Aboriginal Peoples and Hockey: A Complex and Conflicted History.” Hockey in Society, 20 March 2012. Source link

Smith, Stephen. “Recasting the History of Pro Hockey’s Indigenous Players. The New York Times, 25 June 2019. Source link

Tocheri, Julia, director. Hockey's Untold History. YouTube, TSN and BarDown, 19 June 2021. Source link

Vaughan, Garth. “Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Story Tellers.” Birthplace of Hockey, 1999. Source link

National Indigenous Peoples Day

Editors of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. “National Indigenous Peoples Day 2022.” Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., 31 May 2022. Source link

Fred Sasakamoose

“Fred Sasakamoose.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 19 May 2022. Source link

Ives, Mike. “Fred Sasakamoose, One of the First Indigenous N.H.L. Players, Dies at 86.” The New York Times, 9 December 2020. Source link

Klinkenberg, Marty. “Fred Sasakamoose, one of the NHL’s first Indigenous players and a residential school survivor, dies at 86.” The Globe and Mail, 24 November 2020. Source link

Loyie, Larry, and Constance Brissenden. “Fred Sasakamoose.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1 June 2021. Source link

Carey Price

“Carey Price.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 6 June 2022. Source link

Lomon, Chris. “Prices Remain Committed to Honouring Indigenous Heritage, Helping Community.” NHLPA, 10 June 2021. Source link

Ryan, Mike. “Price Carries His Indigenous Heritage with Pride.” The Hockey Writers, 29 October 2018. Source link

Jordin Tootoo

CBC Editors. “Jordin Tootoo opens up about his life: ‘Not just a hockey book.’” CBC News, 30 October 2014. Source link

Hickey, Pat. “Jordin Tootoo details journey to NHL and battles wth alcohol in new biography.” Montreal Gazette, 31 October 2014. Source link

“Jordin Tootoo.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 30 May 2022. Source link

“Team Tootoo Fund.” Vancouver Foundation, 2014. Source link

The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau. “Jordin Tootoo.” Lavin, 2020. Source link

Gino Odjick

“Gino Odjick.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 1 June 2022. Source link

Johnston, Patrick. “From brawl to the Hall: Canucks legend Gino Odjick set for B.C. Sports Hall of Fame honours.” The Province, 2 June 2022. Source link

Little, Simon. “Canucks icon Gino Odjick to be formally inducted into BC Sports Hall of Fame.” Global News, 28 May 2022. Source link

Sneddon, James. “Canucks: 3 Most Notable Indigenous Players.” The Hockey Writers, 19 May 2022. Source link

Williams, Rob. “Canucks legend Gino Odjick releases statement as he battles rare disease again.” Daily Hive, 18 October 2020. Source link

Brigette Lacquette

Arthur, Bruce. “‘Beat them on the ice’: The rise of Brigette Lacquette, the first Indigenous woman on Canada’s Olympic hockey team.” Toronto Star, 20 February 2018. Source link

Associated Press. “Brigette Lacquette breaks barriers as first Indigenous woman to scout for NHL team with Chicago Blackhawks.” ESPN, 30 December 2021. Source link

“Brigette Lacquette.” Team Canada, 2022. Source link

“Brigette Lacquette.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia Foundation, 30 May 2022. Source link


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