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Edmonton Oilers’ outreach to Indigenous people goes beyond land recognition video: Littlechild

Before the puck drops and before 18,000 fans sing “O Canada” in unison at Edmonton Oilers home games, the audience hears from Chief Willie Littlechild.

A message from Littlechild plays on Rogers Place video screens, welcoming the crowd to Treaty 6 territory, the homelands of Métis and Inuit and the ancestral territory of the Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Saulteaux and Nakota Sioux.

“The recognition of our history on this land is an act of reconciliation, and we honor those who walk with us,” Littlechild says, ending with “kinanaskomitin” — thank you, in Cree.

A First Nations land recognition video narrated by Chief Willie Littlechild plays on video screens prior to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Edmonton, Alberta. The Edmonton Oilers began airing the video prior to national anthems in 2021. AP Photo/Stephen Whyno

The land recognition video, a tradition that began in 2021, is getting major airtime across North America with the Oilers on national television in the U.S. and Canada in the Stanley Cup Final against Florida. Littlechild called it a significant step, but it is only one piece of the Oilers’ outreach to First Nations and the Indigenous community in central and northern Alberta that has grown significantly over the past decade.

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“We’ve had significant progress,” said Littlechild, who has served on the team’s community foundation board for nine years. “The Oilers have really been pioneers in the country, and I would say in the whole National Hockey League, in terms of inclusion and access for Indigenous peoples.”

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Much of it stemmed from Canada’s National Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, a six-plus-year study conducted from 2007-15 over the treatment of Indigenous children sent to residential schools. Littlechild noted one of the findings was a call to private industry, including sports, to build better relationships with the Indigenous community, and he cited steps made in inclusion and business as evidence of progress.

“We don’t do this just to check a box of inclusion on the calendar,” Oilers Entertainment Group executive vice-president Tim Shipton said Wednesday. “The Indigenous community in northern Alberta is significant.

“There are nations right across Oil country and members of the community are such passionate members of our fanbase.”

Littlechild said Indigenous girls hockey has seen a particular boost from efforts, including the Oilers hosting a First Nations hockey celebration and working with Edmonton’s Inner City Youth Development Association and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society.

Click to play video: 'City of Edmonton, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society launch community outreach transit team'

City of Edmonton, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society launch community outreach transit team

The land recognition video is one piece of the puzzle and something Littlechild as recently as last week across the country in Quebec City got comments on from fans who noticed it on TV during this playoff run.

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“It has been a very significant step forward to advance reconciliation through the power of sport,” Littlechild told The Associated Press by phone. “It’s so important as a message to the Indigenous peoples both in Canada and the U.S. that we have an opportunity here through a sport like hockey to build good relations, and we’ve been doing that.

“It’s really appreciated, I know, by our Indigenous nations across the country.”

Shipton, who leads the Oilers’ Indigenous outreach, said other organizations and teams have reached out about the video since it first aired Oct. 13, 2021, and drew positive reactions locally and nationally.

“It’s something that people who are new, people coming from out of town or other teams across the league, they come in and it really spurs a conversation around why do you do it, what does it mean,” Shipton said. “And it creates that opening to talk about the things that we can do from a reconciliation perspective.”

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Click to play video: 'Edmonton Oilers to host Indigenous Celebration Night'

Edmonton Oilers to host Indigenous Celebration Night

–With files from The Canadian Press

&© 2024 The Associated Press

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