Hoisting the Stanley Cup in the centre of Sioux Valley Dakota Nation’s powwow arbour, Las Vegas Golden Knight Zach Whitecloud was greeted with roars of appreciation Wednesday.
Whitecloud said he was grateful to bring the cup to some of his most important places and stepping stones in his life — his homes in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and Brandon, and the Tundra Oil and Gas arena in Virden where he played with the Oil Capitals.
Hundreds gathered to see the Stanley Cup winner and Sioux Valley Dakota Nation hero waving cutouts of Whitecloud’s jersey number as he entered the arena in a horse-drawn carriage.
Sioux Valley’s drum group Dakota Hotain played an honour song for Whitecloud, and chief and council gifted him a star blanket with the Las Vegas Golden Knights colours.
“It’s emotional because not everybody gets to receive that … I know how important that is and the magnitude and the weight that carries, and the importance of it for our community,” Whitecloud said.
Whitecloud grew up in Brandon but also considers himself part of the Sioux Valley community, where many of his family members still live.
Bringing the Cup to Sioux Valley, Virden and Brandon has been a special experience because it’s an opportunity to connect with people he used to see playing in the juniors, Whitecloud said. It also offered an opportunity to connect with new people.
These connections add to the magnitude of bringing the cup to Sioux Valley Dakota Nation for the first time.
“Anytime you get to take it anywhere it’s special and it’s the hardest trophy in sports to win,” Whitecloud said.
“Being able to bring it back to my mom’s house in Brandon, being able to bring it to the [Virden] rink here and of course Sioux Valley and just being able to share with friends and family that were all on that journey to get me to that point … not as a thank you but that’s what the hard work can turn into.”
He says every time he visits Sioux Valley the amount of support from family, friends and the community is overwhelming — whether it’s from afar or coming to coming to watch him play live.
When Whitecloud arrived in Sioux Valley he was transported by horse and carriage to the First Nation’s powwow arbour. The arena was filled with fans, including First Nation members from across the Prairies, who let out cheers as carried the cup through crowds eager to touch the iconic hockey trophy.
“I’m always grateful for my support system and the fan base that’s out there that continuously follows along,” Whitecloud said.
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation women’s traditional dancer Dominique Wacanta was part of the festivities welcoming Whitecloud.
The powwow was essential because it’s how First Nation people celebrate and served as a way to honour Whitecloud and his achievements, Wacanta said.
She brought her two daughters, niece and nephew to participate in the powwow dancing and celebrations.
Her family are huge Golden Knights fans. She says being able to bring her children to see Whitecloud and the Stanley Cup is exhilarating.
“My whole household is so thrilled to see the Stanley Cup,” Wacanta said. “It’s such a proud moment to have someone in our community to win such a huge … award is amazing.”
The Stanley Cup has been traveling across the province with other Vegas Knights including Kelly McCrimmon and Brett Howden.
“The cup’s making a long stop here in Manitoba … being able to be part of that is something I take a lot of pride in,” Whitecloud said.
Kai Buffalo travelled from Calgary to see the cup and cheer on the Dakota Knight.
He closely followed the Golden Knights’s playoff run and even watched some games in person.
Buffalo says seeing the cup hoisted and shared with Sioux Valley Dakota Nation members was a powerful experience.
“I’m excited,” Buffalo said. “Whitecloud, he is representing all us Indigenous people and it’s really awesome someone from Sioux Valley, a Dakota Native —� I’m a Dakota Native — he got to hoist the cup … I feel so proud right now.”
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