'It's not OK': First Nations hockey team fights racism with unity

When players from the First Nations Elite hockey program take to the ice in Pierrefonds this weekend for the AAA Montreal Meltdown Hockey Tournament, they’ll be making a fashion statement — all to fight racism.

Their brand new red jerseys were made just for this tournament. They have the slogan “#ItsNotOK” written across the back. The bottom of the jersey has a bold, red bar across the word “racism.”

“I called them ‘Fight The Racism Elites,’ said Tommy H.J. Neeposh, as his team warmed up for the Montreal Meltdown Hockey Tournament at Sportplexe Pierrefonds.

Neeposh is the manager of the First Nations Elite hockey program, which is made up of Cree and Algonquin players from Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

His bantam and midget AAA teams are each made up of Indigenous and white players.

“They’re going to gel together as one team, as one family, one community. It doesn’t matter the race. You just [have to] love the game of hockey,” says Neeposh.

The new jerseys are a way to combat a difficult experience that took place last year in Quebec City.

The First Nations Elite players weren’t made to feel so welcome at The Coupe Challenge Quebec, where they were taunted and subjected to racial slurs.

Parents, coaches and players recounted how they were called “savages,” told to “go home” and listened to the arena DJ play powwow music over the PA system.

“Everybody kept looking at me, I felt like I was famous or something — and then it felt uncomfortable. The first game they called us savages. We tried to talk to the organizers but they didn’t do anything,” recalls player Tyshawn Neeposh, 14.

“I felt disgusted to be called a savage…. I didn’t feel comfortable to play hockey anymore.”

This year’s strategy was to build a multicultural team, specifically for this weekend’s strategy.

It’s time to put an end to racism,” said assistant coach Willie Ottereyes. These kids have feelings and we should guide them towards a better path and healthier path.”

The First Nations Elite mixed team playing this weekend is a multicultural one, made up of players who are white, Cree and Algonquin. (Duke Eatmon/CBC)

Tyshawn Neeposh is proud to play on the team.

“I feel like we have to stop this, the racism and everything. So we decided to put together a team of half French guys and half Crees just to show that we have respect for each other. We get along on the ice and off.”

Maxim Audet, a 14-year-old goalie from Abitibi, didn’t hesitate to join when he got the call.

“Initially I was the only white guy on the team,” said Audet. “The chemistry is good … I’m having fun.”

Now that their jerseys are ready, so are the players. Colton McIntosh, 14, says he and his teammates are just all looking forward to playing hockey — together.

“We’re going to win it.”

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