The recent incident involving Manitoba NHL player Zach Whitecloud, in which an American sportscaster mocked his name, serves as a stark reminder of the historical connection between hockey and the colonization and assimilation of Indigenous peoples into mainstream Canadian culture. For many, the sportscaster’s insensitive remark reflects a long-standing legacy of racism towards Indigenous cultures that has persisted within the sport of hockey.
Whitecloud Incident Sheds Light on Legacy of Indigenous Racism in Hockey
Sports, like hockey, have been historically used as tools to suppress Indigenous cultures and assimilate Indigenous peoples into dominant society. This approach was particularly evident in residential schools, government-sponsored religious institutions established in the 19th century. In these schools, sports were often utilized as a means to “civilize” Indigenous children, instilling Euro-Canadian values and alienating them from their own cultural practices.
Hockey, in particular, was employed to assimilate Indigenous children and encourage conformity to the dominant society’s norms. The sport was seen as a means to instill discipline, teamwork, and loyalty to a new cultural identity, effectively stripping Indigenous children of their heritage, language, and spiritual beliefs, and replacing them with Euro-Canadian values.
In light of this historical context, the sportscaster’s comment on Whitecloud’s name can be seen as an attempt to diminish his heritage as a member of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation.
However, rather than ignoring the incident, Whitecloud seized the opportunity to educate the sportscaster on the importance of understanding and respecting diverse backgrounds.
During a scrum with reporters, Whitecloud expressed his pride in his culture, upbringing, and the legacy his grandfather’s last name carries, while also emphasizing his desire for the controversy to serve as a learning experience to prevent similar incidents in the future.
In response to the incident, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs issued a statement emphasizing the sacredness of First Nations names and the legacy of ancestors. Grand Chief Cathy Merrick expressed disappointment over the incident and called on ESPN and the NHL to address racism within the sport more effectively.
The Struggle for Indigenous Representation and Respect in Hockey
The incident involving Zach Whitecloud underlines the ongoing struggle for Indigenous representation and respect within sports like hockey, which have historically been used as vehicles for colonization and assimilation.
As the landscape of hockey transforms, embracing a more inclusive environment, it is imperative to acknowledge and confront the ongoing struggle for Indigenous representation and comprehension in hockey and other sports historically employed as instruments of colonization and cultural assimilation. A wider discourse is necessary to explore the urgency of extricating hockey from its colonial roots.
By fostering greater awareness and education about Indigenous cultures, we can work towards dismantling the lingering colonial legacy in hockey, and sports, to build towards a more inclusive and respectful cultural landscape on Turtle Island, and across the globe.