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The SHA cutting the Beardy’s Blackhawks shows it values money over social impacts

A proud 25-year tradition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous hockey talents coming together on the ice at Beardy’s & Okemasis Cree Nation is set to come to a sudden and confusing end.

The Beardy’s Blackhawks’ 25th season logo. (Submitted by Jody Oakes)

A proud 25-year tradition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous hockey talents coming together on the ice at Beardy’s & Okemasis Cree Nation is set to come to a sudden and confusing end. 

This past week, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA) voted to eliminate the Beardy’s Blackhawks Midget AAA and Midget AA programs at the end of this season, along with the AAA Notre Dame Argos. New AAA teams in Warman and Estevan will replace the Blackhawks and Argos.

The decision made it clear that the SHA values money above the positive social impacts and representation of Indigenous hockey culture the Blackhawks provided.

The Blackhawks were more than just another Midget AAA team. The program served as a success story as Canada’s only elite AAA minor hockey program located on — and operated by — a First Nation.

A history of inclusion

For two-and-a-half decades, the Blackhawks brought elite hockey prospects to Beardy’s & Okemasis, giving Indigenous players and Saskatchewan’s future hockey stars an opportunity to live in a First Nations community while preparing for careers in the sport.

Former NHL forwards Linden Vey and Dwight King played their Midget careers with Beardy’s, developing their talents with a program that served as a success story as Canada’s only elite AAA minor hockey program located on and operated by a First Nation. 

Over the past week, Blackhawks supporters have asked why the SHA didn’t explore all possible options to maintain a program that was providing inclusion for the Indigenous community and its aspiring hockey players. 

Blackhawks Minor Hockey Association President Jason Seesquasis made it clear in a news release that he feels the SHA made a shortsighted decision. 

“In this era of reconciliation, this team should be a point of pride, and a flagship franchise for a sport’s governing body like the SHA. Instead, they take a one-of-a-kind team, and with the stroke of a pen, they kill it,” Seesquasis said.

“This is 2019. How does such a decision make any sense? I’m sorry if this sounds harsh. But it is upsetting.”

For Immediate Release – November 13, 2019 (Beardy’s & Okemasis Cree Nation) pic.twitter.com/BnrCnYDKOZ

@BeardysAAA

When asked if the Blackhawks’ being the country’s only First Nations-run Midget AAA team was considered in the process, SHA general manager Kelly McClintock said the decision was based on the criteria SHA had set out. 

Those criteria – based on resources such as local coaching and education – played to the advantage of Warman and Estevan, two mostly-white communities that also happen to have recently-built rinks the SHA wanted to place teams in. 

It raises the question of what is more important: new facilities in Warman and Estevan or 25 years of tying Indigenous and non-Indigenous hockey communities together? 

SHA should do the right thing

Elite hockey is constantly under fire for what is perceived as an insular culture dominated by a largely white community of players, families and decision-makers. The SHA had an opportunity to prove otherwise by making the Blackhawks an example of what can be accomplished through the inclusion of Indigenous communities at the highest level of minor hockey. 

Instead, the SHA has sent a concerning message of apathy towards reconciliation and inclusiveness. In a non-profit league, where teams lose money to develop players, the SHA’s decision is hard to accept. 

Critics have suggested the SHA could have expanded the league to 13 or 14 teams, or relocated one of the league’s two Saskatoon clubs to Warman, instead of kicking teams out. All of the possible scenarios seem to be better choices than what happened, but the association is standing its ground, saying there is no way to appeal. 

If the SHA has any interest in doing the right thing and developing the game for all cultures, it will listen to its critics and reverse its decision to close its doors on a successful Indigenous hockey institution. 


This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

Interested in writing for us? We accept pitches for opinion and point-of-view pieces from Saskatchewan residents who want to share their thoughts on the news of the day, issues affecting their community or who have a compelling personal story to share. No need to be a professional writer!

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About the Author

Chase Ruttig is a Saskatoon-based writer who spent time as editor-in-chief of a weekly newspaper in Neepawa, Man., and as sports editor of his hometown newspaper in Yorkton, Sask. He has reported extensively on minor hockey in Saskatchewan.

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