TORONTO—As a world champion hoop dancer, Wiikwemkoong’s Lisa Odjig is used to requests to perform the intricate Indigenous dance form at events, but this past Saturday, January 7 Ms. Odjig found herself giving a very special performance at Toronto’s Scotiabank Centre during the second intermission of the Maple Leafs’ first Indigenous Celebration Game.
“The love and support from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Major League Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) for all Indigenous people, communities, elders and residential school survivors,” responded Ms. Odjig when asked how the performance came about. “They welcomed us with open arms. The love and support has been overwhelming and many of our Indigenous people and communities have been fans and also have shared their love and support for the major sports leagues for decades. The connection has been beautiful and we can’t thank them enough. I had reached out to the Toronto Maple Leafs and MLSE and we kept in touch throughout the last season and the beginning of the new season. The connection has been exciting from the beginning, and I am happy everything worked out beautifully.”
Ms. Odjig was joined on the on-ice carpet stage by Toronto Council Fire All Nation Jr’s Drum group and its lead singer Kevin Myran, as well as dancers Nikki Shawana, Ian Akiwenzie, Daniel Secord, Emily Gaudet and Ascension Harjo. Also joining her on-ice were elders Gilbert Sunday, residential school survivor (and Ms. Odjig’s mother) Margaret Jackson and elder (and Ms. Odjig’s father) Franklin Fisher Odjig.
“We all felt the love and support,” said Ms. Odjig of the audience response to the performance. “The audience cheered and clapped for the drum, drummers, dancers, residential school survivors and elders. We were all excited and a bit nervous, but we went out and gave it our all.”
Ms. Odjig, who now lives and works in Toronto, said that she wanted to have more people take part in the performance, but the 20-by-20-foot carpeted square really limited how many could take part.
“I was honored, grateful and thankful for this opportunity,” said Ms. Odjig. “We’ve all come a long way and I thought about our lost brothers and sisters, lost aunties, uncles, grandparents in the residential school system and the residential school survivors that are still here with us today. I thought, ‘we will make you proud and will continue to honor you, sing for you, dance for you, represent you because we know the importance of keeping our traditions and culture strong and alive and we will not let you down’.”
The hoop dance must have brought a bit of its magic to the Maple Leafs as not only did they score a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings that game, but they also secured a new franchise scoring record with Mitch Marner’s goal and assist taking place in a 23-game scoring streak.
Maple Leaf players wore warm-up jerseys designed by Indigenous artist Tyler Rushnell. Those jerseys will be up for auction on Real Sports Auction, with all proceeds being donated to the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.