His face, his voice and his clothing have all become synonymous with Rogers Hometown Hockey in Cree on APTN.
It’s not Earl Wood’s first rodeo – he’s been an emcee at pow wows and for various sporting events for decades.
The historic first game in March 2019 was, however, the first time Wood had been on television and all that comes with it.
The people in the control room speaking into his ear, the cables running down his back, and the pressure to perform on live TV.
“I was very, very nervous. Before we came on, I went out and smudged, said a little prayer to the Creator and asked my grandmothers and grandfathers, let me represent the people good here, let me show something to the young people that can be accomplished,” says Wood.
The reaction Wood received from friends, family and strangers after that first game was overwhelming.
“Holy smokes! The phone was just going to blow up, people were calling, they were texting, when I went home, people were shaking my hand. It gave me a big sense of pride,” says Wood.
The appreciation he received from Elders also brought tears to his eyes.
“They’re the ones that we got to thank because they’re the reason why the language is still here. Because they’re the ones that kept it alive and they’re the ones that were even more persecuted than us,” says Wood.
Wood believes Rogers Hometown Hockey in Cree on APTN has sparked an interest and enthusiasm in the language “like a hot July fire on the Prairies with the wind whipping it up.”
Wood feels the three-year deal to continue Rogers Hometown Hockey in Cree on APTN, will be exciting for the youth.
“They’re going to look and say, ‘Look where our language can take us. That bannock and baloney guy, look where it took him, he’s on TV.’ And that’s what I tell them. I tell them it will take you even further than me,” says Wood.
Emceeing pow wows, round dances and chuck wagon races have all prepared Wood for the role he has today.
More recently, Wood has been calling Indian Relay Races.
Wood feels it is the fastest growing sport in North America and “the extreme Indigenous sport.”
The Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association is in preliminary talks to get the races broadcast.
When Wood is hosting a hockey game, he wants to wear his “finery” and express his Indigenous worldview through his clothing.
Wood’s kids are his fashion advisors and he says he likes to wear something special for each game.
During this episode of Face to Face, which was shot before the NHL paused the season, Wood was wearing a vest with a man riding a buffalo pony.
“That’s to all our men out there who are in the process of healing, in that process of holistic wellness and moving forward and being a warrior, looking after your kids, looking after your wife, honouring yourself like that,” says Wood.
“So I try to wear something like that every time. The flowers are for growth, the flowers are for the young people, the people struggling, the people that are sick, the people that are incarcerated, the children in care, to bloom like that,” says Wood.
Wood, who is from Saddle Lake, Alta., is also a member of the Northern Cree Singers who have been nominated for nine Grammy awards and two Juno awards.
Wood and two of his brothers started Northern Cree more than 30 years ago.
Wood says his family grew up on the “toxic fringes of the intentions of colonization and assimilation” with the residential schools, the ‘60s Scoop and the day schools.
“I can say that we came through all three of those. Singing was a way of transcending ourselves to our authentic selves,” says Wood.
Singing was one of the ways Wood and his family retained their language.
Wood believes Northern Cree and the accolades the group has received has meant a lot to the younger generation, even more than the gentlemen that sing around the drum.
“It reverberates and has reverberated and it’s touched so many people and gained so much interest in singing and culture amongst the younger people. I know that within the immediate group, it’s brought the group to places that Indigenous people have not gone before to go and demonstrate and share the power and the energy and the enthusiasm and the coherency of the Indigenous singing, Indigenous sound. They’ve been wonderful ambassadors,” says Wood.