Senators celebrating local Indigenous communities

Photo: Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Hockey provides all kinds of educations, and it builds relationships. So why not hockey to spark an interest in learning a language?

Those are some of the goals behind the Belleville Senators hosting their second Indigenous Communities Night when the Laval Rocket visit CAA Arena on Thursday. Partnering with the team, several local Indigenous communities in the Bay of Quinte region will be on hand to celebrate their cultures and histories along with the team’s commitment to reconciliation. As part of the night, the team will set up an Indigenous vendor’s market, where fans will be able to browse and shop among local artisans and businesses and also visit community information tables.

A game-night raffle that will feature team-signed sticks and a team-signed jersey. Proceeds from that raffle will be directed toward supporting Indigenous communities and programming. Those causes will also receive funds raised by the sale of limited-edition T-shirts that feature Kanyen’keha-inspired Belleville Sens logos. Kory Parkin, a local Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte artist, designed the T-shirts. The Alderville First Nation and Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte will also be involved with the ceremonial puck drop, and the Alderville First Nation will have a drum presentation.

“It’s something that was a long time coming,” said Garrett Harvey, the Senators’ senior coordinator of content and game presentation. “It really touches on the spirit of truth and reconciliation.”

Moreover, the team and local Indigenous communities do not want this event to be a one-off night. Harvey and the B-Sens staff had existing relationships with the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and reached out when planning the event for the first time last season. Harvey worked closely with Callie Hill, the executive director of the Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Cultural Centre. She also helped him to develop relationships with others.

“We had lots of discussions on what’s appropriate and maybe what’s not appropriate and how do you represent the Indigenous community in Belleville,” Hill said.

Said Harvey, “They helped us tremendously. I found myself saying a lot last year, ‘I don’t know what I don’t know.’ This year we’re just kind of trying to build off of that. We don’t want to be a rinse-repeat.”

Harvey and the Belleville front office also reached out to their Manitoba Moose counterparts. The Moose had experience putting on such events going back to the days of the original iteration of the franchise and have been recognized by the AHL for their Follow Your Dreams game, an annual celebration of aboriginal communities around Manitoba.

Hill has made it her mission to provide a variety of educational programs that aim to preserve and revitalize the Kanyen’kéha (Mohawk) language. This past June brought the announcement of the new Kenhtè:ke Language and Cultural Centre that will be built on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

“Our whole thing is getting our language and our culture into our homes again so that it becomes a living language for our children and our grandchildren,” Hill said. “Getting that out to the wider community and showing them ways that they can help us do that is really important.”

Hockey is a part of building those language connections as well. Last season’s event featured a variety of programming, including hockey-related terms and announcements in the Mohawk language on the CAA Arena video board.

“For us to see that and for the community of Belleville to see our language up on the screen like that being promoted, it really helps us with our work in trying to normalize it,” Hill said. “You’ve got an audience of all different ages… I just think it was a really great way to pay honor to our language.”

The Moose have developed a committee with local Indigenous leaders to plan out events, and Harvey wants the Senators to do that as well as part of a next step to building out these relationships. The team has long marketed itself regionally in a catchment area that stretches from Kingston and Gananoque to east of Oshawa, and Harvey also wants the team to reach other Indigenous communities in that area.

“[A committee] can help guide us and help learn the best things that we can do as an organization to elevate their messaging and help educate our fans,” Harvey said.

Hockey is entertainment, but Hill likes that education and relationship-building are the themes of the night.

“Talking to us and learning about who we are is really important,” Hill said. “Outreach is really important for us, especially from our closest neighbors. We don’t know as much as we should, so it gives us an opportunity of building on those relationships.

“We are very much relational people, and so this type of evening really helps us to build up those relationships that are so important for us moving forward.”