Indigenous hockey firsts?: Who counts and who doesn’t


Photo from Hockey Canada.

Hockey Canada recently announced the women’s roster that will be playing at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. On that roster is Brigette Lacquette, a Cote First Nations woman from Mallard, Manitoba. When Lacquette was included on this year’s roster numerous outlets such as Color of Hockey, Sportsnet, and the CBC all tweeted articles touting Lacquette as the first Indigenous woman to gear up for Team Canada (she almost made the 2014 Olympic team). I re-tweeted these celebratory tweets even though I knew that Jocelyne Larocque was previously identified by Alberta Native News as “the first Aboriginal woman to play for Team Canada in the Olympics Games” (the two will be teammates in Pyeongchang). I even included Larocque as the only person of colour in my SSHRC Storytellers video about the lack of diversity on Canadian Olympic hockey rosters:

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Screen capture of my SSHRC storytellers video with racial representation for the Canadian teams fielded for Sochi 2014.

I texted fellow Hockey in Society writer Brett Pardy with my confusion because he had helped me identify Larocque for my video (also *radicalized was an autocorrect – should be racialized):

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So we “went with the flow” because it seemed that others knew something we didn’t. Our passivity in challenging these media narratives is exactly how history gets re-written, erased, and co-opted. Dr. Janice Forsyth, an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario and the Director of First Nations Studies, did what we should have done when the news surrounding Lacquette came out and challenged this information:

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And Forsyth’s tweet before that undercuts the dominant idea that Fred Saskamoose was the first Indigenous NHL player:

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James Milks writes:

Sorry to put a damper on the celebrations, but Fred wasn’t the first to skate in the NHL, and was most certainly not the first professional indigenous player…. Like most “first” questions, it is difficult to answer conclusively [but] the first indigenous player in the NHL was likely Henry “Buddy” Maracle, who played 11 regular season games and 4 playoff games with the 1930–31 New York Rangers.

He also argues that the reason why Saskamoose has probably received more attention and accolades is because he was seen as the “first” Indigenous player “with treaty status.” In other words, we need to question who is doing the record keeping but also who counts as racialized at that given time. These factors help determine who is written into our history books and who is written out.

I’m not a scholar of Indigenous sporting history but I had information that countered the narrative that I was being sold (and will likely continue to be told leading up to the Games). I failed to challenge the information presented and, in doing so, contributed to the erasure of what Dr. Forsyth referred to on Twitter as “easily forgotten pasts:”

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At the time of writing this it does not appear that Kristine Rutherford who wrote the Sportsnet article replied to Dr. Forsyth’s tweet but as sports aficionados, scholars, bloggers, and citizens it is our job to keep the media “honest.” Therefore, as Pyeongchang approaches let’s make sure journalists are checking their facts and have as many as possible. Histories have been written but by no means are they final or complete. Let my silence be a lesson.

2 thoughts on “Indigenous hockey firsts?: Who counts and who doesn’t

  1. And there’s a case of Clarence “Taffy” Abel who was part Chippewa and played for the New York Rangers starting in 1926. Interestingly, he was born in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, United States.

  2. Pingback: Links Round-up: Fred Sasakamoose and Indigenous hockey trailblazers; Former NHL enforcers facing homelessness, addiction; NWHL’s Beauts bought by Pegula family; and more | Hockey in Society

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