High school hockey player says fans in Swan River, Man., hurled racist comments at him during game

A young Manitoba hockey player is speaking out, after he says racist comments were directed at him during a high school hockey game in Swan River last week.

Keagan Gaywish,16, plays with the Minnedosa Chancellors high school hockey team and was on Swan River to play against the Swan Valley Regional Secondary School Tigers on Oct. 31. 

In an interview with CBC News on Friday,  he said he heard racist comments directed at him coming from young people in the stands during the game. Later, when he was leaving the ice, he said a teammate also heard racist comments from people at the rink.

“It made me feel like I wanted to quit hockey, like, I’m not going to, but it just made me like want to stop playing hockey,” said Gaywish. “Made me feel very bad as a person and really, really emotional.”

Gaywish is from Rolling River First Nation and has been playing hockey for 11 years. He’s sharing his story so people can see that racism exists and in hopes of preventing other people from experiencing what he did. 

“It’s not a little thing. It hurts, like, a lot,” he said. 

Keagan Gaywish hopes speaking out about the racist abuse he experienced in Swan River will help ensure others don’t have similar experiences. (Courtesy Roger Brightnose)

The teen’s dad, Roger Brightnose, wasn’t at the game last Sunday, but said he was devastated when he heard his son saying it made him feel like he wanted to quit something he loved. 

“You never want to hear your kids going through something like this,” said Brightnose. 

“When it hits your household like that it’s really, it  really takes its toll emotionally and, you know, we actually sat down as a family and talked this through together.”

Brightnose said that his son told him someone in the stands also taunted him with that appeared to be a traditional hand drum while he was in the penalty box. 

He said his son’s team has been supportive and acted quickly to address what happened. Gaywish said his teammates and the principal at Erickson Collegiate where he goes to school have checked in on him to see how he’s doing. 

Parent to sit behind visiting team’s bench

The Swan Valley School Division said the coaches for the Swan Valley team heard about what happened and it was investigated promptly. 

The Swan Valley Regional Secondary School told the division that the parents of the students who were alleged to have made the comments have been contacted. 

The school also told the division that protocols are being put in place to stop this from happening again including having a parent sit behind the visiting team’s bench. 

The president of the Westman High School Hockey League said he would not do an interview with CBC News about what happened and would not provide comment on how it was handled. An email from Corey Forbes said that the incident has been dealt with between school and individuals involved. 

Brightnose is happy his son’s team took action quickly. 

“With anything that involves racism you’re never fully satisfied with how everything’s going to be addressed (because) deep down, deep down you know it’s still going to continue happening,” said Brightnose.  

“It’s always a comforting feeling knowing that you have people supporting you, addressing it on your behalf, on my son’s behalf.”  

Brightnose said the first step to preventing incidents like this from happening to other kids is to acknowledge that there is a problem. 

“Creating awareness is a big step toward ending racism,” said Brightnose. 

“My biggest concern is people that are witnessing this type of behaviour to take that step forward and tell them to stop or you know acknowledging that it’s not right.”

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