Taking a look at Indigenous Celebration jerseys across Canadian NHL teams

Last weekend, the Calgary Flames had their inaugural Indigenous Celebration Night. Calgary was the last of the Canadian teams to hold an an event of this kind—and it was long overdue.

The night included a pregame ceremony before they played the Minnesota Wild, which included a ceremonial puck drop by the Chiefs of each of the Treaty 7 Nations, the Canadian anthem being sung in the Cree Language, and for the first time ever, the team had a land acknowledgement. You can watch the acknowledgement below, and it will be played every time you head to the Saddledome for a hockey game.

In addition to the meaningful celebrations, the Flames also wore special Indigenous Celebration warm-up jerseys, thus following in the footsteps of the other Canadian NHL teams who have already done so over the course of the past two seasons. With so many Indigenous designed warm-up jerseys now circulating around the league we thought we’d take a look at the ones worn by each Canadian team and help to highlight the great work that local indigenous artists have done crafting these jerseys.

Calgary Flames

The jersey worn by the Flames features two new familiar logos with some new Indigenous touches and it was designed by local artists Jacob Alexis and Richard Running Rabbit. The duo also designed the Calgary Hitmen’s 2022 “Every Child Matters” Jersey

In a graphic the Flames posted to social media, they explained the design of the main logo with this statement:

“The Blasty logo is used to honour tradition, the organization and its loyal fanbase. He has a circle around his eye for keen vision, and stripes added to symbolize great achievements. The eagle feather often represents the culture and our connection to history. Indigenous communities use them to honour great achievements or in this case milestones. The talks of reconciliation also coincide with change, therefore the flames in the tips of the feathers are used to represent that “spark” of change in a forward moving direction.”

via @NHLFlames

The jersey also featured a shoulder patch which was used throughout the night in branding for the event, and was also made the team’s profile picture on their different social media accounts for the duration of the day, with the meaning behind it as follows:

“The logo tells the story of the Indigenous community in Treaty 7 Territory. The overall design is intended to be representative of the people and to share that connection and history of their relationship with the land.”

via @NHLFlames

Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks have now had two different Indigenous Celebration jerseys, and have celebrated five First Nations Nights over the past few seasons.

This season the team paid tribute to Canucks legend Gino Odjick who passed away earlier this year in January.

Odjick was from the  Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation near Maniwaki, Quebec and played eight seasons with the Canucks, including being a key part of the 1994 team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final.

Odjick’s cousin Jay designed the jersey, and he chose to pay tribute to the black and yellow skate jersey that Odjick wore during his time with the Canucks. He replaced the skate with a thunderbird which is often used as a symbol of strength, power and protection. The jersey also features a medicine wheel as shoulder patches which include Odjick’s #29.

In 2021, the Canucks wore an orange jersey which included a Coast Salish rendition of the Orca logo. This was designed by Musqueam artist Chase Gray. The design incorporates the three Musqueam colours of tumuth (a red ochre pigment), sunset yellow, and black. The shoulder crest which contains the text “Every Child Matters” recognizes and honours the memory of the Indigenous children victims and survivors of residential schools.

Winnipeg Jets

Like the Canucks, the Winnipeg Jets have been celebrating the Indigenous members in their community for a number of years.

In 2019 they held their first ever WASAC Night which is a partnership between the Jets and the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre. For the 2019 event they partnered with graphic designer Leticia Spence from Pimicikamak First Nation. Spence designed a logo for both the Jets and the Manitoba Moose AHL team.

Both logos combine each teams logo with various indigenous art styles including Dene, Woodlands and Cree.

The Jets have used their WASAC logos a number of times and now even sell fashion jerseys in their style—something that cannot be said of any other team.

via True North Shop

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs also chose to wear Indigenous warm-up jerseys for their Indigenous Celebration Game which took place at the start of January. Their jerseys featured artwork by Anishinaabe artist Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell who is of the Beaver Clan from Wasauksing First Nations in Parry Sound Ontario. Rushnell is a Woodland Style artist and he brought that to his rendition of the Maple Leafs logo. The text in the leaf also includes the Mohawk version of the name Toronto which is Tkaronto.

The shoulder patches on these represent Rushnell’s Anishinaabe heritage as the Animkiig (Thunderbird) is one of the most powerful spiritual beings in their culture.

Montreal Canadiens

During the 2021–22 season, the Montreal Canadiens teamed up with comic book colourist and illustrator, Thomas Deer to design their first ever Indigenous Celebration night jersey.

Deer’s designs tells a story through it’s different logos and patches. Firstly it utilizes the imagery of the Two Row Wampum belt which was the first treaty relationship established between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and European colonists. It was first made in a hope for peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, and non-interference. One of the shoulder patches pays ode to the Silver Covenant Chain which was another treaty between the Indigenous and colonists.

Deer also paid tribute to his own individual Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) culture by adding a Flint Arrowhead which is an important symbol in his community and represents strength, courage, and protection from evil forces.

Deer also used traditional Iroquoian pottery patterns as a design motif.

The Habs have yet to do an Indigenous Celebration night during the 2022–23 season. If they end up having one where they introduce a new jersey design we will update this article.

Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers have worn their Indigenous celebration jerseys on two occasions over the past two seasons.

The Oilers’ “Turtle Island Logo” was designed with the help of Lance Cardinal of Bigstone Cree First Nations. It incorporates the Oilers logo into the body of a turtle which represents Turtle Island which is the land mass upon which all 32 NHL teams play on. In Cree lore the turtle also represents creation, wisdom and spirituality.

Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators have yet to use their Indigenous celebration logo on a warm-up jersey but they did work with Jay Odjick to design one for t-shirts which they sold with proceeds going to charity.

Odjick’s Sens logo takes inspiration from Anishinaabe culture primarily focusing on the imagery of a dream catcher which he says pays tribute to all of the Indigenous children across Canada who one day dream of being NHL Players.

More than just warm-up jerseys

While these Indigenous celebration jerseys might not feel like all that much as far as reconciliation goes, the chance for young children to see themselves on the ice in these jerseys and feel inspired should be reason enough for these jersey programs to continue.

The jerseys and land acknowledgments are small yet meaningful steps towards reconciliation and serves to remind and educate the hockey community on Indigenous cultures and that the beloved game of hockey is played on Turtle Island.

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