Guest Post: A Day for the Love of the Game and All Those Who Love It – Putting Aside Contentious Differences on “National Jersey Day,” in Remembrance and Reconciliation

Guest Post by Jordan Oelke

Jordan is a recent graduate of the University of Guelph’s B.A Honours anthropology program, with a focus on Indigenous-settler relations and environmental anthropology. He is a life-long Toronto Maple Leafs fan and is looking to pursue a Masters in Germany starting in Fall, 2018.

I am reminded of how important hockey is to Canadians, on this day [Editor’s note: this was written on April 12, 2018], the day when the Toronto Maple Leafs play their first playoff game of the 2018 post-season against the Boston Bruins. For many in Canada, today is also “National Jersey Day” in solidarity with the Humboldt Broncos, victims of the tragedy in Saskatchewan which shocked the hockey world and Canadians. I am wearing my Maple Leafs jersey today to support both, while sitting in a Second Cup across from the University of Guelph.

Indian Horse

I am currently reading one of Canada Reads 2013 selections Indian Horse, a novel by Richard Wagamese who is Ojibway from the Wabaseemong First Nation in northwestern Ontario (the book has also been reviewed on this blog). He tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, a boy living in the residential school period of the 1960s, who fights to survive experiences of abuse, discrimination, and assimilation when he finds a way out of hopelessness and darkness through the naturally gifted vision he has for the game of hockey. Indian Horse is not about hockey as a white man’s sport “saving” Saul from the residential school system, but the opposite; Saul’s commitment to his love of hockey and his “vision” of what the game should represent saves hockey. It is a beautiful novel that combines Wagamese’s love for the game of hockey with Canada’s history of residential schools and the discriminatory experiences of “Indians” in both Canada and hockey.

A coffee shop is a place to slow down time by having coffee with a friend, or it can be a place to catch up with the busyness of life by connecting to Wi-Fi and getting work done. The contentious differences that prevent people from seeing the similarities amongst them are deeply present in Indian Horse. Hockey can bring people together over a “love for the game,” and it can bring people together in times of grieving, disparity, and hopelessness, as experienced in the tragedy of Humboldt. Wearing my Maple Leafs jersey can become political when another person has a Montreal Canadiens jersey on in the same room, but today as “National Jersey Day” helps us to move past the political opposition and regionalism that is associated with hockey, if only for one day, to come together as a people who share the love for the game.

With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, we as “Canadians” are starting to finally come to terms with the historical injustices committed against Indigenous peoples… but we are not doing enough. Hockey as Canada’s national sport (overshadowing our other national sport, lacrosse) is deeply tied to the history of Canada. Hockey helps to define us as a “nation” made up of nations (First Nations, Inuit, Metis, and other nationalities that make up the diversity of Canada’s population) and it brings us together in ways that are political, emotional, and objective. However, we must not forget that hockey is a sport for the privileged, as the costs to play are staggering and this is what keeps the game mainly “white.” Furthermore, hockey and other sports in general, serve to help the nationalist agenda of a country, with anthems sung at the beginning of games, largely accompanied by salutes to troops, and dedicated ceremonies – such as the Humboldt tragedy.

What “National Jersey Day” has reminded me of, is that no matter how big our “perceived” differences are, many of us share the love of the game of hockey. If we can learn to love each other as hockey fans, putting aside our differences (without neglecting the privilege and discrimination associated with one’s socially constructed race, ethnicity, gender, etc., that make up our identities), whether a Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Boston Bruins, or Humboldt Broncos fan, and we can incorporate inclusivity into the game of hockey, then we can do so in our daily lives. Hockey is a magical game of teamwork, supporting one another, and humbled individuality that is made up of and surrounded by magical people, which is exemplified in the outpouring of love and support after the incident, and in the healing process of the Humboldt tragedy. It is a game that should not see the colour of one’s skin, their gender, sexuality, etc., but should instead see the pride of representing a team, a country, and “nation”, with respect and admiration for the group opposing you across the rink, no matter a win or a loss, ending with a handshake.

Hockey is not perfect, however, and Indian Horse reminds us of this, towards the end of the book where Saul’s attempt to transition to higher levels of play results in heavy discrimination and stereotyping. In the end, hockey is not “Canada’s” sport, but the sport of the many First Nations, Inuit, Metis, and other nationalities that make-up the general populous of what it means to be Canadian.

I highly recommend reading Indian Horse, as it reminds us that as Canadians, who love the game of hockey and are deeply connected to it, we must recognize the history of discrimination and abuse against First Nations and other racialized groups that still occurs today in Canada. This history is symbolized in the experiences of Saul Indian Horse in the game of hockey. Furthermore, Indian Horse reminds us to extend that love and support for the game of hockey, and the Humboldt Broncos, to all who the game affects and influences across this beautiful land called Canada, or “Turtle Island.”

“Go, Leafs, Go!”


Wagamese, R. (2012). Indian Horse. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.

Copyright © Jordan Oelke, 2018


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