It may have looked like an ordinary Friday night game between the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, but it was clear once the pre-game festivities got underway, something was different.
The Strong Warriors Girls Anishinaabe Singers, who range in age from eight to ten, are part of the Ojibwe immersion program, the only one of its kind in Winnipeg at Riverbend Community School.
These girls took to the ice to sing the national anthem in Ojibwe, a first for professional sports.
“It’s really inspiring hopefully for other first nation communities and all language speakers to help them, promote their language and be proud of their language,” stated Gloria Barker when asked what she hopes people take away from this historic occasion.
The pre-game anthem was just one part of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre (WASAC) Night on Friday as the Winnipeg Jets also wore special warmup uniforms with Indigenized logos designed by a local Indigenous student.
Kevin Chief is the co-founder of WASAC.
He says this weekend is an important step in showing people the importance of language and culture.
“One of the things that becomes absolutely critical is we can’t tell young people things are possible,” he says. “We got to be able to show them examples and so one example here this evening is we’re celebrating the idea of reclaiming our language and we’re getting children to sing those songs and promote those songs so that’s it’s a strong message to people that no matter who you are or where you come from you should be proud.”
The Manitoba Moose also celebrated Indigenous culture the following Saturday afternoon with Follow Your Dreams Day.
The Moose invited kindergarten to grade three students from Isaac Brock School to sing the Canadian anthem in Cree.
“We’re recognizing language as a way of life now for our students and that it’s very important that the students that are in our program learning the language and are sharing with the Winnipeg population in general,” said Colleen Omand, Cree language instructor at Isaac Brock on the impact singing the anthem in Cree can have.
Like the Jets, the Moose had special Indigenous jerseys made but they were able to wear them for the entirety of the game.
The weekend was part of the NHL’s This is Hockey initiative which promotes diversity and inclusiveness in hockey.
The Jets and Moose along with WASAC hope to continue promoting Indigenous culture and they are already planning next year’s event.