Maritime Junior Hockey League launches new jerseys to honor Indigenous communities

HALIFAX – Starting Wednesday, players of the Maritime Junior Hockey League will don specially designed jerseys to celebrate the nation’s Indigenous groups as part of the organization’s Reconciliation Week.

The 12 teams in the league will take turns sporting jerseys featuring a picture of children outside of a residential school, along with the phrase “Every Child Counts”. Each team will wear the jerseys, which also feature their logos, for a home game by December 5.

League President Steve Dykeman said in an interview Tuesday that league governors agreed to honor Indigenous communities after receiving good feedback on a jersey project last year designed to celebrate workers in frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They were motivated, he added, by the discovery of hundreds of anonymous graves of Indigenous children in residential schools across the country that began earlier this year.

In May, a First Nation in Kamloops, British Columbia, announced that it had found what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school. The following month, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan revealed the discovery of more than 700 anonymous graves.

“We wanted to have some kind of recognition,” Dykeman said. “The goal is really to show our respect and to shine a light on what happened.”

Bob Gloade, Chief of the Millbrook First Nation in Truro, Nova Scotia, called the jersey campaign a positive initiative.

“When you have members of the aboriginal community (…) playing in the league and being part of (the initiative), it’s very nice to see,” Gloade said in an interview on Tuesday. “I just see it as a positive step forward and part of the reconciliation.”

Jersey designer Jeff Rector said that in addition to the “threatening” image of a group of young Indigenous children gathered outside Kamloops Indian Residential School, the phrase “Every Child Matters” is written in English, in mid ‘kmaq and Wolastoqey, the main dialects of Native communities in the Maritimes.

Rector said he consulted with members of local First Nations communities to help him capture aspects of East Coast Indigenous groups in his design process. Like Dykeman, he said he hopes the images convey a message of awareness and respect.

“I wanted to show the kids,” he said. “These are images that have been etched in our minds since the news broke. This is something we all need to remember and keep close to us as we work towards reconciliation and building a better future together.

The new jerseys will debut Wednesday night as the Grand Falls Rapids host the Miramichi Timberwolves.

After the special reconciliation calendar, teams will auction the jerseys and the proceeds will be donated to indigenous communities in the area.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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