Seattle Kraken Embraces Aboriginal Traditions, Elevating Indigenous Voices

On December 6, the Seattle Kraken hockey team took to the ice for warm-ups in custom-designed T-shirts inspired by the traditional Karoque basket, while more than 200 invited members of the area’s Native American community watched from the stands.

The National Hockey League’s newest team, Kraken, wore the unique pre-game jerseys as part of the franchise’s Indigenous People’s Night, which featured an on-ice performance of about 20 people from the Muckleshoot Canoe Family singing group.

This wasn’t the only time the team got to know the indigenous people and the tribal states that inhabited the area long ago.

While other NHL franchises are also trying to engage with Native American fans and tribal communities — including dedicating game nights to Indigenous people — Kraken has taken more tangible steps toward engaging with area chiefs and others in the Indian Country to make them feel like part of the team community and to amplify the voices of residents. the originals.

“Hockey has historically not been the most representative sport. It’s no secret,” said Marie Horita, Vice President of Community Engagement and Social Impact at Kraken.

At the launch of the franchise, Horita said the team’s leadership and owners wanted to start “new with a clean slate” and be an example of how a professional sports franchise can authentically and powerfully operate to be welcoming and inclusive for all.

Horita said the team prioritized working with all underserved communities that may not have traditionally been exposed to the game. She added that given the history of the indigenous peoples and tribal nations in the region, working to include them in the team’s story was of particular importance.

“We need to be inclusive, we have to be represented, we need to be a team and an arena where everyone really sees themselves, knows they are being seen and respected, and where we all feel part of the story,” Horita said. .

With input from tribal leaders and Indian state specialist advisors, the team wrote the Land Recognition Statement about the team playing on the “Homelands of the Peoples of the Salish Coast” while recognizing “Washington’s Tribal Nations and Indigenous Organizations, which are actively creating, shaping, and contributing to our thriving communities.”

The Kraken team has also started post-game Tradition of salmon toss To bring back fish-pelling workers at local fish markets—which the team, through Indigenous advisors, assured would not be offensive or culturally insensitive—in home games for the masses. Team facilities are decorated with art from local Native American artists, and the franchise has hosted educational events for Indigenous youth to teach the basics of stick and ball hockey to help increase Native American youth participation in a sport that traces much of its history back to the indigenous peoples of North America.

“It has always been our game,” said Dejay Alok, a First Nations hockey coach who has worked with the Kraken on some Aboriginal youth initiatives, and grew up playing the sport in Canada. He added that some tribal nations, such as Mi’kmaq, even have hockey – or similar games that gave rise to the modern sport – “buried in their language and culture”.

Andrea Wilber-Sego, artist and member of the Squaxen Island Tribe, displays her artwork at the Seattle Kraken’s Native Leaders Lunch in August 2021. Courtesy of Seattle Kraken

Raising Indigenous People and Their Stories

During the December 6 game, the Kraken, playing in their first season in the NHL, not only wore special T-shirts designed by Aboriginal artist Fox Spears, but was also a member of the Lummi Nation singing the national anthem.

Horita said Kraken’s first outreach efforts in India can be traced back nearly two years ago, when the team met with local tribal leaders and other organizations to introduce themselves and ask how the team could be such good members of the community and welcome everyone. . This initial meeting helped produce the Declaration of Land Recognition and subsequent meetings with tribal leaders.

Horita said one of the biggest takeaways from those meetings was that tribal leaders wanted the team to focus its efforts on working with young people. The organization also wanted to give Aboriginal people another way to tell and amplify their stories, which led to the privilege of commissioning many art projects, including sculptures and murals by Aboriginal artists.

“This is a long journey and we have a lot of work to do,” Horita said. “And I certainly am not saying that we do it perfectly, or that we do it absolutely right, every time. But we try to be as intentional as possible.”

To help guide its work, the team also brought in advisors from Indian nations to brainstorm ideas and help facilitate work with tribal leaders and other organizations. Pyramid Communications suggested the team use the land acknowledgment statement as a springboard to establish relationships and encourage participation in the sport or with the team, said Timris Lynn, Pyramid’s India Country Manager.

Lynn, who attended Aboriginal Night on December 6, said she helped the team find the Lummi woman who sang the national anthem at the game.

So far, said Lin, who is from Lummi Nation, the team appears to have taken this advice to go beyond recognition of the land and engage with the Aboriginal community very seriously.

“To finish working with the Seattle Kraken, to do it well, to do it in a good way — to think of Indigenous peoples as the basis for who the City of Seattle is, who they serve, who are interested in getting involved in and participating in their games — was definitely healing for me,” she said.

The shirt logo is a large letter S on a red and blue background.

Indigenous artist Fox Spears, a member of the Karok tribe, designed the shirts that Seattle Kraken players would wear during the warm-up game December 6 on Aboriginal Night. The designs are inspired by traditional Karuk baskets and patterns, while the square shape is a nod to the square drums made by the Karuk people. Courtesy of Seattle Kraken

Focus on Native American youth

For Kyle Boyd, director of youth and community development at Kraken, the ultimate goal of the team’s work in Indian Country—and with other groups not traditionally involved in hockey—is to ensure growth is not limited to suburban and wealthier areas. Communities where hockey is becoming more popular in the area.

Boyd, who is African American, grew up playing hockey in Minnesota. While few people of color play the sport, he said, the game was so ingrained in the state’s culture that he often found himself on the ice. But in many other places where hockey is not very popular, it is difficult for young people of color and others to envision themselves as part of the game.

“Often, access to the game is limited to young people of color, rural youth, and minorities in general, who do not grow up in these suburban communities,” he said. “The goal has always been, right from the start, that we want to see hockey and our game accessible to everyone and something that everyone feels they can handle.”

Alook, who is part of the Big Stone Cree Nation in Alberta, has spent his career coaching hockey. After moving to Seattle with his family, he started Tribal Hockey, a non-profit organization that aims to increase participation in sports among youth through tournaments and camps. He is passionate about the game he played most of his life and credits it with keeping him grounded during a chaotic youth, believing it to be a great character building activity. Alook hopes to develop Tribal Hockey into an organization that hosts major youth hockey tournaments and provides training camps for players.

He said Alook’s ultimate goal is for two to four of the region’s tribes to have their own teams. But this is an elusive goal. First, to start building a base and getting people interested in the game, he wants to start with education and the basics of the game: dribbling with stability, passing and shooting. He added that integrating indigenous culture and history is also important. He believes that the game is one of the best sports that are related to life, and he loves its speed and creativity.

“It’s just my passion. It’s just educating people about the sport and its origin and how great it is,” Alok said. “For me, it is one of the closest sports that repeats life itself, in the sense of speed, how much we fight, compete, cooperate, all of those things.”

Early on, Alook said Team Kraken reached out about a potential partnership and asked for his help in growing the sport. Earlier this year, Kraken and Alook collaborated to produce a video about the history and basics of hockey for young Muckleshoot and also hosted introductions to the game through ball hockey events. While COVID-19 has slowed some of these efforts, Alook said he has been in discussions with Muckleshoot and other tribes to build those partnerships.

Using street hockey and ball as initial exposure to the game is great, Boyd said, but the next steps are to have ice time in the hockey rinks and youth on the ice. The team worked with local Aboriginal organizations and other groups to host public skating events for children to facilitate the introduction of the sport.

“There’s nothing quite like going up on ice,” he said.

While Alok said that what he and the team are trying to “do is huge” and difficult, they have a good chance of developing the game beyond traditional demographics because hockey is still a relatively new and unknown sport to many in the Pacific Northwest, especially in tribal communities. There are also barriers to entering the game, such as expensive equipment and access to ice time. He hopes that his and the team’s efforts will lead to acceptance by tribes and other groups to help attract more children to play.

Ultimately, he wants to see some sort of annual league or tournament for the Pacific Northwest tribal teams, as opposed to the annual tournaments in Canada that host 250 or more teams of Native players of all ages competing against each other.

“All the tribes, if you look at it, it’s a clean piece of paper. They don’t really participate in the sport or know the sport,” Alok said. “So you have a clean sheet. And there aren’t a lot of places in North America where you can get that opportunity.”

Share this story underline And indian country today, a news partnership covering Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest. Funding is provided in part by the Meyer Memorial Trust.

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