Kanienʼkehá꞉ka Habs fans sit out national anthem in support of residential school survivors

Steve Bonspiel and his wife Onawa Jacobs are huge Montreal Canadiens fans.

But while they were attending Monday’s game 4 of the Stanley Cup final to cheer on their favourite team, they remained silent and sat for the national anthem.

“We need to talk about what is wrong in this country, what could be fixed, respect for Indigenous people,” said Bonspiel, who is originally from Kanesatake Mohawk Territory but currently calls nearby Kahnawà:ke home.

Following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves across the country near residential schools, the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka (Mohawk) couple hopes their action will advance the ongoing conversation of how Indigenous people are treated in Canada.

Bonspiel is the editor and publisher of the award winning Kahnawà:ke newspaper “The Eastern Door”, where Jacobs also contributes as a writer and journalist.

Bonspiel is pleased with how mainstream media is reacting to his protest.

“Sportsnet, all of a sudden, all this media were interested. Which I think is amazing because if this was 20 years ago, they wouldn’t care, they’d say, who cares? Some dumb Indian sitting for, you know, an anthem, who cares? But, now, people want to have that conversation more. They understand more,” Bonspiel said.

Bonspiel and Jacobs both protested the anthem earlier in the playoff as well, during game six of the conference finals against the Vegas Golden Knights.

But during their most recent action, they introduced a new element: an eagle feather lent to them by a friend who is a residential school survivor.

“I felt that I was carrying him with me but also carrying residential school survivors and people who never came home. And, from the reaction that we got when we post the Facebook live and we posted photos before, I think people really, were more touched this time around,” Bonspiel said.

Bonspiel added that not all of the reactions on social media were positive.

“It’s funny because somebody said on Twitter ‘oh, there’s no place for politics in a sporting event’. Well, the anthems are political. The anthems belong to two countries, two settler states that happened to impose themselves on Indigenous Peoples. We as Indigenous peoples are born with politics, we have to know politics right away, because our life is politics,” said Bonspiel.

Minor backlash aside, Bonspiel is happy that he used this platform to show his resistance to colonization.

And to take the opportunity to show solidarity to both residential school survivors…as well as his favourite team.

Reporter / Montreal

Shushan is a proud Innu from the community of Uashtat mak Mani-Utenam who joined the Nouvelles Nationales d’APTN team as a correspondent in Montreal. She grew up in Wendake and studied public communications at Laval University in Quebec City. She did an internship in the summer of 2001 as a journalist at APTN and is pleased to be back!