Chipping the White Ice

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Of all the options I had to watch the Olympic gold medal men’s hockey game at 6:00 this morning, I opted to treat it like a regular Sunday and sleep in instead. I also asked someone who did get up early to text me updates, which turned out to be a very contradictory idea to my decision. I should’ve gone an alternate route – go to the casino bar and grill down the street where commentators were set up to broadcast during intermissions; sleeping over at my parents’ house so I could cuddle with dogs all night before early rising; even just getting up myself and watching it online.

But I’m not as hardcore a hockey fan as so many others in this country, so I stayed in bed. I know who scored the three goals against Sweden as updates were sent to me, but I didn’t get to see the goaltending by who it sounds like should be the MVP of the game if not the entire tournament – Carey Price.

Carey Price is not only an iconic Canadian in his hockey skills; he is also a First Nations Canadian. Hockey is generally portrayed implicitly as a white man’s sport. (It sounds like the women’s hockey gold medal match was far more interesting than the men’s, but more people will pay attention to male sports especially when the by far dominant professional league is entirely men.) What I read in my Twitter feed this morning from First Nations people I follow and all the retweets they made from ones I don’t follow was a lot of pride. The First Nations populations in Canada has many hockey fans just like the white population does. It has Inuit fans with their iconic professional player Jordin Tootoo.

Hockey evolved into the sport it is today in Canada, but post-colonization. There were First Nations contributions to the development of the game as we know it, namely the Mi’kmaq people developing their own version of hockey sticks, but any of those contributions were appropriated and continue to go largely unacknowledged.

So it’s historically white, and remains largely white today spare the handful of black and indigenous players in the NHL. These players need to be exceptional to be acknowledged – all players do, really – and for the generalized fan population to notice the increasing diversity of the sport. But much like the rest of this colonized society, the general population is blind to just how blanche the background is, and why it is that these highly accomplished athletes stick out to them. I don’t have the perspective of First Nations or Inuit Canadians on how they perceive the white population’s embracing of players like Price or Tootoo, or the what the various black communities throughout the country see in the white-as-a-blizzard fans celebrating players like Jerome Iginla or Evander Kane. How do people of colour who aren’t hockey fans perceive the hysteria that much of the country has over the sport?

As admitted above, I’m a milder hockey fan than a large chunk of my country’s population, and I’m writing this about an hour after the gold medal game ended and inspired me to whip up something about it, so this isn’t a thoroughly researched piece on the diversity of the professional league of the sport. I’m also a white person, so I don’t have perspective on how the exceptional accomplishments might inspire the underrepresented, nor am I aware of the lesser known non-white hockey players because I am as blind to them as the general white population. But if hockey is going to be continuously reaffirmed as the Canadian sport, it has to be owned by the more diverse population we have from indigenous peoples and the people of colour who have been a part of our country for generations or are more recent arrivals. If Canada owns hockey, non-white Canadians need to claim it equally theirs. Victory is ours, so let’s take a serious look at the “ours” we’re talking about. We clearly need to share involvement and ownership if we want to keep building the best talent in the sport with the people we have.

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