TORONTO – An Indigenous-owned clothing line celebrates Indigenous hockey culture while encouraging and supporting young Indigenous athletes in the sport.
“Smudge the Blades” sells a wide variety of sportswear and hockey equipment with smart designs that bring Aboriginal culture and humor to the rink. The designs include slogans such as “Hockey Is A Good Medicine”, “The Feeling of First Nations Hockey” and “Kitâskwêw, pihtakwatâw”, which in Cree means “He shoots, he scores”.
“Before I started Smudge the Blades, I had this idea about two years ago. I just made some fun shirts that I thought might make people laugh. I kept them on my computer and then a day I decided to do one, ”Smudge the Blades founder Harlan Kingfisher told CTV News.
A father of four from Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, Kingfisher named his business after his late grandfather, who held cleansing ceremonies to bring healing to his community. Cleansing also became an important pre-game ritual for Kingfisher, after his grandfather suggested it.
“One day I wasn’t good in the playoffs. He said to me, ‘Why don’t you stain your hockey equipment, stain your stick?’ Kingfisher explained.
Kingfisher has many fond memories of his childhood and hockey practice, but he also knows what it’s like to be a victim of racism on the ice. He recalls one instance when he was a junior hockey player playing for an Aboriginal-owned team at a road game in a small town in Manitoba.
“I had never seen anything like it. The whole crowd was just clapping you, yelling at you, spitting at you, throwing trash. They had nets above us that they had to put in place so that garbage don’t hit us You hear the comments “Drunk Indians get out of our ice,” Kingfisher said.
Today, Kingfisher uses his social media platform to appeal and raise awareness of the racism that continues to be pervasive in hockey.
“I call people. I call organizations and since doing this people have been messaging me and letting me know their stories,” he said.
When spectators yelled racist slurs at 16-year-old Keegan Brightnose during a hockey game last month, he almost stopped playing.
“It didn’t make me feel very good. I just kept it to myself and just texted my mom to find out what happened,” Keagan said.
Keegan’s father Earl Brightnose says the clothing line has created an online social community that is raising awareness of the problem.
“It showed how racism really is felt in hockey,” Brightnose said.
Hockey can also be an expensive sport, as hockey equipment and costs can cost thousands of dollars. A portion of Smudge the Blades sales went to support Indigenous families who would otherwise not be able to afford to enroll their children in hockey programs.
Kingfisher says he recently reached out to a mom who was about to tell her kids they couldn’t play hockey this season due to the high cost of fees.
“I covered their hockey costs and got them to play this year,” Kingfisher said. “I really want to pay forward to all the native youth who need help.”
Kingfisher also hopes his clothing can also educate Canadians about the Aboriginal roots of hockey.
“Hockey in Canada is everyone’s game and as aboriginal people we created the Mic-Mac hockey stick. It’s in our blood, and aboriginal hockey is so huge, ”Kingfisher said.