Friday, 1 June 2018

Are We Not Civilized?

The image to left of these proud young men is the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team made up from several Cree, Atikamekw, and Algonquin communities in Quebec and First Nations communities in Ontario and Nova Scotia. These young men, aged 13 and 14, could be any bantam AAA team in Canada based on their skill and abilities, but they were singled out and had racist remarks shouted at them at the Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA from May 25 to 27 because of their Indigenous Persons statuses. In today's day and age, this is absolutely sickening to hear and I find the actions of the people who decided to engage in this kind of activity entirely reprehensible.

I want to point out the work done by CBC reporters Susan Bell, Betsy Longchap, and Corinne Smith in compiling this story. While we, as a nation, pride ourselves in our inclusivity, Canada still has its moments of absolute horridness, and this is one of those moments. It's not easy to ask the victims of racism to speak up and speak out when the wound is so fresh, but I commend Bell, Longchap, and Smith, along with the members of the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team, who spoke up about this ugly event and published a story that should force people to really think about their choices of words.

It's hard to imagine that adults in the stands and on the benches would subject adolescent boys to the comments they did, but this is the reality of the situation. As per the CBC article,
According to several parents, players and Elites manager Tommy H.J. Neeposh, players were called "savages" by at least one coach and a number of spectators.

They were also subjected to opposing players mimicking a stereotypical "war cry" on the ice, and players mocking the motion of a tomahawk as the First Nations players passed them near the dressing room off the ice.

"They were taunting our boys," said Neeposh, adding it was the worst he's ever experienced.

"[They] were doing Indian cries and the refs and coaches saw it."
That is abhorrent, and I'm not sure anyone can justify those words or actions by the coach, players, or spectators. That simply is repulsive in their behavior, and I'd hope that this tournament crucifies the teams and its fans that imposed this kind of garbage upon the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team.

What's that, you say? The tournament staff was contacted about this? Richard Sévigny, vice-president for the Bulldogs de Quebec AAA team and tournament organizer, had this to say to CBC.
Sévigny said he wasn't on hand for the games the First Nation Elites players were involved in, but that he made special efforts to include the Elites team, even helping them register after the tournament was full.

He said the behaviour described in the allegations is unfortunate and deplorable but insisted there was very little he can do about behaviour on the ice and in the stands.

"What happens on the ice between young people, we can't control that," Sévigny said.

He said he was told some of the First Nations players were also yelling racially charged comments at the referee.

"Are the [Indigenous] players white as snow? I don't know. Were the [non-Indigenous] players a bit arrogant? We just organize the tournament."

As for the complaints against the referee, Sévigny said the most he could do would be to not hire him back for other tournaments.
What in the holy blue hell is Sévigny talking about when he said, "What happens on the ice between young people, we can't control that"? You're entirely, completely, 100% responsible for controlling and putting a stop to that type of behavior in young people as a tournament organizer, fellow team manager, and responsible, mature human adult - note that it doesn't necessarily have to be in that order since a responsible, mature human adult would be aghast at making a statement that would condone the racist words and actions used above all else. To play the "he said, he said" game between the two sides without doing any investigation into the matter is wholly irresponsible to the point of me questioning whether or not Sévigny might be somewhat racist. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not, but he's walking an extremely thin line after his statement.

Secondly, let's leave this "white as snow" bit out when talking about racially-charged comments. If the "unfortunate and deplorable" comment was in poor taste, that's completely tone deaf to degrees I'm not sure I've ever read. I am astounded that this Sévigny character is allowed to speak to the media when he makes boneheaded comments like that.

This whole "we just organize the tournament" absolution of any responsibility is now going to keep other Indigenous and First Nation teams from even considering this spring tournament. If the tournament isn't going to condemn those who uttered racist remarks on any side nor punish those who used racially-charged actions towards anyone else, the only things to take away from this tournament is that the organizers are cowardly racists themselves who look the other way when a matter of this nature occurs or they simply don't care to exert the effort and do the investigation. Or both. I'm not sure either is acceptable in this day and age when it comes to matters of racial insensitivity, but why sully the name of the Bulldogs, the tournament itself, and the organizers who run the tournament by not trying to resolve this as best as they can? It's literally good business to make sure that this never happens again on their watch.

The Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA tournament is outside of Hockey Quebec's reach as it is a spring tournament, but Hockey Quebec made it very clear to CBC "that racism will not be tolerated in games governed by" Hockey Quebec's rules. And while I respect that Hockey Quebec won't get involved with a tournament they don't sanction, it doesn't mean they can't speak to the Bulldogs de Quebec and have them do right by the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team. Some of the players on the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team are members of Hockey Quebec, so do you really think they believe in this code of ethics that Hockey Quebec believes will absolve them when they've been shown that racism wins?

From top to bottom in Quebec, these kids on the First Nation Elites Bantam AAA team have been let down by a provincial hockey system in which they've been asked to support. No one from Hockey Quebec will accept responsibility because spring hockey isn't under their watch. No one from the Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA tournament will accept responsibility because, and I quote, "we can't control that" and "[w]e just organize the tournament". With no one accepting responsibility to ensure this doesn't happen again, the words of team manager Tommy H.J. Neeposh sound more ominous when he told the team, "You are going to face this for the rest of your lives."

I wasn't at the tournament and I have no ties to Hockey Quebec, the Bulldogs de Quebec, the Coupe Challenge Quebec AAA tournament, nor Richard Sévigny. I can say this, though: I'm sorry that these young men had to endure this garbage. There is no time or place that this is ever acceptable, and it's even worse to see at a hockey game where the talent on the ice should be cheered for their efforts at this age. Gentlemen, you deserve better, and I hope you won't lose faith in your fellow Canadians over a basket of bad apples, some rather inept institutions, and a tournament that doesn't deserve men of your class and skill. You're better than all of those who committed these acts of racism whether aggressively to your face or passive-aggressively off the ice when speaking to the media.

We're better than this, Canada. At least, I'm hoping we are.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Unknown said...

Is there somewhere I could send a donation to support the Elite team? I know teams often struggle and would like to do something positive on behalf of humanity. Thanks!

Teebz said...

Hello! I don't have any information on how to contact the team, but I have reached out to CBC to see if there's any contact info for team. Once I have that, I'll post the info here.

Thanks for reading and, more importantly, thanks for your compassion and generosity.