Thousands of minor hockey players from across the country will soon be getting orange practice jerseys.
“We want to have the kids ask the question ‘why are wearing these jerseys?’, and from there you know the conversation starts and we hope to maintain that momentum 12 months a year not just Sep. 30,” said Dylan Row, co-founder of the Orange Jersey Project.
The 10,000 orange practice jerseys will be sent free of charge to youth hockey teams across Canada to spark dialogue about Indian residential schools and their harmful impact on Indigenous children and families.
“The primary goal of the orange jersey project is to educate and engage young Canadian athletes to help them understand the story of Indian residential schools and ultimately be a platform for truth and reconciliation in Canada and then the third objective of the program is to promote mental health, physical and mental wellbeing for Indigenous youth,” said Jason Olson, president of Keener Jerseys.
Along with the jerseys, learning tools and resources will be provided by the Downie and Wenjack Fund for player engagement off the ice.
The jerseys and curriculum will be sent free of charge thanks to sponsorship provided by Canadian Tire.
“The Orange Shirt Society and Downie Wenjack Fund, they have their own curriculum but Downie Wenjack is a little bit more advanced in that they have the legacy school programs in almost 4,000 schools across the country so Orange Shirt Society and Downie Wenjack are partnering together to create an online curriculum,” said co-founder Dylan Row.
Row is a former minor professional hockey player who helped start the project after learning more about residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
“I didn’t know enough about it to be frank and when we started talking about kind of getting into this and how we can help, I wasn’t aware of the truth and reconciliation 94 calls to action, I was unaware of that. Like most Canadians probably are somewhat unaware of these calls to action so we wanted to address calls to action 87-92 which are related to sport,” he said.
The hope for those involved is that other sports will be involved soon.
“We can see that many other sports will be a part of this and that’s what we actually need to have happen because hockey is definitely you know Canada’s big passionate sport but kids are playing a lot of different sports,” Olson said.
“This program if it’s able to reach those youth in those other sports, that’s the way they can begin to understand and the truth part of the truth and reconciliation is having those youth understand the history so that they can be empathetic, they become knowledgeable and understanding and that’s the only way reconciliation can take place.”
A signed jersey auction is ongoing featuring over 35 male and female hockey players from the NHL Alumni, and national women’s team players and NHL including Carey Price, Ethan Bear, Brian Trottier and women’s hockey Olympians Brigette Lacquette and Jocelyne Larocque.
The jerseys being made for the auction are one of two, with the winner of the auction receiving one as well as the player.
The online auction ends on Oct. 5 with all proceeds going to the Orange Shirt Society. The jerseys should arrive in the teams in November and December.