In recent years, schools around the territory have taken part in Orange Shirt Day in honour of Every Child Matters.
That has now moved into the realm of sports. The Yk Minor Hockey Association had its first team don orange jerseys on Wednesday afternoon to raise further awareness.
The Mary Browns U13 squad swapped out their regular jerseys for their game versus the Crowe MacKay Crushers as part of the Orange Jersey Project, an initiative designed to help young athletes understand the history of residential schools and work toward truth and reconciliation.
Shakita Jensen, the team’s head coach, said when she heard about it, it was something she wanted her team to take part in.
“It should be something everyone wants to be a part of,” she said. “I really hope it catches on like Orange Shirt Day has.”
The project’s goals are to inform, educate and engage with youth about the history of the residential school system; promote truth and reconciliation throughout Canada and; promote physical and mental wellness of Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth through sport. Every jersey has #TRC displayed on the back — recognizing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — along with the number 87, which signifies the article contained within the TRC’s Calls to Action: provide public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.
In addition to the jerseys, there are learning modules that are available online for players, parents and coaches to give them a better sense of history.
Jensen said the dressing room chat before the game centred around what the jerseys represent.
“An open discussion about what the jerseys mean to us, the importance of wearing them and what we can do when we leave the rink,” she said. “No. 87 is a way for people to get the conversation going, get governments involved, halls of fame, to recognize Indigenous athletes.”
Jensen was also appreciative of the officials being on board with the initiative.
“It can be tough for them during a game because everyone is wearing the same number,” she acknowledged.
Ryder Jensen, the coach’s brother, was also involved on Wednesday. He said he was supportive when his sister came up with the idea.
“I think it’s really good to help tell a lot of people about the history of residential schools,” he said. “It’s also important to make sure everyone knows what’s happening and why we’re wearing (the jerseys). To know that it happened up here in the Northwest Territories is really sad.”
Grayson Klein, Ryder Jensen’s teammate, said he feels that this will become as important as Orange Shirt Day.
“I think it will be just the same,” he said.
Chief Fred Sangris of Ndilo and Yellowknives Dene First Nation Coun. William Lines took part in a ceremonial puck-drop at centre ice before the start of the game.