Sticks celebrate Indigenous art
by Nicholas M. Pescod|27 DEC 2022
Lorne Julien is one of the artists designing the hockey sticks given as best player awards.
photo: Dan Froese
At the end of every game at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton, one player from each team will be named Player of the Game and given a hockey stick.
But not just any ordinary stick. 
The sticks handed out over the course of 31 games will feature artwork designed by one of four highly respected Indigenous artists from Atlantic Canada — Emma Hassencahl-Perley, Lorne Julien, Robin Jipjaweg Paul and Natalie Sappier (Samaqani Cocahq).
“I think at a time where we have felt so separated from one another, it's really going to really bring some unity and it is needed in a time like this and sports have a way of doing that, bringing people together and creating memories,” says Sappier. “It also makes me proud to have our artists be represented because there are so many stories that come from this part of the world that not too many people know about.”
Hockey Canada partnered with Mawi’Art: Wabanaki Artist Collective, an organization that focuses on developing and promoting Indigenous artists in Atlantic Canada, which was tasked with selecting the artists. 
“Our whole goal is to sort of celebrate and elevate Wabanaki art or the Indigenous art of Atlantic Canada and this is a fantastic opportunity to do that,” says Shawn Dalton, executive director of Mawi’Art. “It's such a high-profile event and we were quite excited.”
In September, Mawi’Art put out a call asking interested artists to submit their designs. 
“When the post came up by Mawi’Art, I just got excited. I was like ‘That would be so cool,’ and I just jumped on it. I just did and I don't do that often because a lot of cool things come out and I am like ‘Oh, that's cool,’ but there's something about this that triggered home,” says Sappier.
Originally, the intention was to have two artists, but Mawi’Art opted for go with four designs. The winning artists were chosen based on various factors that included their connection to the game of hockey.
“All of them have these amazing stories to tell about their own personal connections to hockey, like Emma Hassencahl-Perley has been playing hockey since she was a little kid … to Lorne Julien whose family produced hockey sticks on a massive scale and shipped them all over North America. It was just such a nice opportunity for them to really dive into the memories of their families and their own personal interaction with the game,” says Dalton.
“I didn’t think I’d get chosen. I am extremely grateful and honoured,” says Paul, a Mik’maq artist from Oromocto First Nation in New Brunswick.


All four designs are unique in their own way, but they do have one thing in common. Each design features an eagle — something that happened organically.
“Something that stuck out to me was that we all ended up painting eagles on our sticks and we hadn't had a conversation about that prior,” says Hassencahl-Perley, a Wabanaki artist from Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick.
In Indigenous cultures throughout North America, the eagle is of great importance and receiving an eagle feather is considered a very high honour. 
“To receive an eagle feather, in First Nations cultures across Canada, is a high honour. It symbolizes a high accomplishment,” explains Hassencahl-Perley. “The eagle in this case is a reminder to reach above expectations and to also remain humble on your journey.”
Hassencahl-Perley’s design features an eagle, a hockey player, stars, a snowflake and birch bark on a dark blue background.  
“I chose to honour Wabanaki birch bark artists. Specifically, artists that are embellishing like birch bark containers, canoes, through birch bark, biting, itching, and so on,” she says. “I was looking at a lot of archival images of things like containers and canoes to inform what my stick was going to be.”
Julian, an acrylic artist and member of the Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia, went with a large eagle surrounded by the Mi’kmaq double curved for his design. He also incorporated an orange heart in the middle of the eagle, which honours residential school children.
“I also wanted to show the orange heart as well and honour of all the residential school survivors and the children that didn't make it,” he says.
An eagle also features prominently in Paul’s design, which depicts a large eagle with the seven sacred teachings — courage, love, wisdom, respect, honesty, respect, humility and truth — written on its wings, inspired largely by her family. 

“It reflects my family because on my side of the family we’re eagle clans. So, I have a great connection with the eagle,” says Paul. “I wanted to incorporate the seven sacred teachings because in order to have a player of the game, you have to understand seven of the sacred teachings. At least, that is what I think.”

Sappier, a visual artist who grew up in Tobique First Nation, created an eagle as well as a turtle, fish and coyote, on a colourful background.

“I thought [about] the animals, I thought about our relationship with the animals and that is why I designed it where we have the turtle, which represents Mother Earth, because it is many of us coming together around the world here in this area,” explains Sappier.

The eagle represents the “dreams that we have as people and all of our ancestors who watch over us in the sky” while the coyote represents playfulness and survival, according to Sappier, who was also inspired by her family and athletes. 

“I thought of passion, I thought of drive, I thought of hockey being hero to many,” she says, adding, “I'm always inspired by anyone who pursues the sports in this way, and it is something that I admire. I really wanted to express my gratitude and show them that what I see is very beautiful and it inspires and that I am proud of them, and I just want to support them in any way that I can.”


Indigenous designs on the Player of the Game sticks is not a new concept — Jason Carter, an Alberta-based artist, created designs on sticks given out at the 2022 World Juniors in Edmonton. But with the tournament being on the East Coast this year, the concept offered a chance for local Indigenous artists to touch on the historical link between their culture and the game of hockey.
“It was a unique opportunity to connect Indigenous culture in the Maritimes with the origins of hockey, especially the traditional carving of the hockey stick,” says Grant MacDonald, local event lead for the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The connection between the game of hockey, particularly the stick, and Indigenous communities in the Maritimes runs deeper than many may realize. 
Mi’kmaq throughout Nova Scotia carved what were known as “Mic-Mac” hockey sticks that were used at the NHL level in the early 1900s and sold to the general public by the Eaton Company Ltd. 
Julian’s great-grandfather, who was chief of Millbrook First Nation for decades, was among those who carved Mic-Mac sticks, which were also known as Mi’kmaw.
“He was part of this. They had a big contract, and they had an order of 12,000 Mi’kmaw hockey sticks. They called Mi’kmaw people Mi’kmaq back then because they couldn’t pronounce it. So, I guess that’s why the sticks were called Mic-Mac.”