Teacher calls on fans to wear Indigenous athletes’ jerseys on Friday

A B.C. teacher is calling on people to wear their favourite Indigenous athlete’s jersey in support of Edmonton Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear, who received racist messages and comments online following the team’s Game 4 playoff loss this week.

“I’m hoping to raise awareness about . . . the things that have been directed towards Ethan, but also finding a positive way to support Indigenous athletes,” said Naim Cardinal.

Cardinal, who is Nehiyaw from Tallcree First Nation in northern Alberta and lives in Kelowna, B.C., started a campaign for people to wear their favourite jerseys and to use the hashtag #IndigenousJerseyDay on Friday.

The campaign is a response to the online treatment of Bear, who is from Ochapowace First Nation in Saskatchewan.

“I saw a couple of racist posts on his Instagram account, but mostly on Twitter,” said Cardinal. 

“It was about him getting out of town. It was him not deserving to be in the NHL. He sucks. He’s the worst player on the team, and doesn’t deserve to wear an Oilers jersey. It was just so bad. And honestly . . .  it hurt me to read those things because I know what a great player he is,” said Cardinal.

On Wednesday, Bear responded to the comments in a video posted to the Oilers Twitter account, saying, “There’s no place for racism in our community, in sports or in our workplace.” 

As a longtime collector of hockey cards and in particular, Indigenous hockey players’ cards, Cardinal has followed closely the careers and community work of many players who have made it to the NHL.

Naim Cardinal would like to see people wear their favourite Indigenous athletes’ jersey on Friday. (Melanie Cardinal)

He said Bear is one of the players who goes out of their way to consistently give back to the Indigenous community.

“A lot of these athletes have been through a lot of the same intergenerational trauma and have had the same experiences as the people in our Indigenous communities,” said Cardinal. 

“They’re striving for success and they’ve reached the pinnacle of whatever it is they’re doing. And I’m hoping that that can be inspiring for young people to be able to follow their dreams and go after whatever they want to do with their lives.” 

Support from community

After seeing some of the comments directed at Bear this week, former NHL player and coach Ted Nolan called it a sad situation and said it was unacceptable in 2021.

Nolan, who is Anishinaabe from Garden River First Nation in Ontario, won the Jack Adams award for coach of the year in 1997.

Ted Nolan said the support that Indigenous players receive from their communities is unwavering. He plans on wearing both of his sons’ jerseys on Friday. (Sandra Nolan)

He said it’s been great to see the support that players like Bear have received from the Indigenous community during incidents like this.

“Even during my playing time in my career, the one thing I always relied on was the support of our people and our people have been there through thick and thin,” said Nolan. 

“If any one of our people, from any community, makes it, we all make it. And we’re all very proud of Ethan’s accomplishments.”

Nolan said he would like to make sure that support is being offered to all Indigenous youth, whether they are in sports or not. 

“We all have to stand up and . . .  encourage our young people to push forward,” he said. 

“And people like Ethan, who’s on an NHL level, could really be a platform for the rest of our kids to follow in his footsteps . . . so when we have someone like that, it’s very, very important for all of us to band together and support.”

He plans on starting off wearing his son Jordan Nolan’s Los Angeles Kings Jersey on Friday and said he will have to switch to his other son Brandon Nolan’s Carolina Hurricanes jersey in the afternoon. 

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