Racial gestures towards MSS girls’ hockey squad prompt apologies

MSS girls’ hockey team member Jorja Peltier brought the issue to the attention of the administration at both MSS and Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier.

Francophone public school board apologizes on behalf of girls’ team at Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier

M’CHIGEENG—Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l’Ontario (CSPGNO) school board officials have worked with Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier school staff to identify those involved in what has been described as racism actions against the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) Mustangs girls’ hockey team, carried out in two incidents during this year’s hockey season. CSPGNO has sent a letter of apology to a member of the MSS team who brought forward a complaint, taken action with  the offending students at Macdonald-Cartier and is working with its schools in fostering an inclusive environmental based on the celebration of diversity. The Franco-Ontario schoolboard is also producing  cultural sensitivity videos for its students and staff. As well, CSPGNO will now be implementing compulsory sessions on cultural sensitivity in all its schools.

“I received a letter of apology from CSPGNO,” said Jorja Peltier, a Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory band member and resident of Lake Manitou, and member of the MSS girls’ hockey squad. “I’m happy they took our idea of providing cultural sensitivity training education. After similar incidents happened twice, there is something wrong and obviously people are not being educated in cultural sensitivity,” said Ms. Peltier, a Grade 11 student. “Maybe by calling them out this won’t happen again.”

Ms. Peltier had written a letter that she sent to the administration at Manitoulin Secondary School and also shared this with The Expositor. “It felt like a punch to the stomach. You would never expect racism to happen to you, let alone in your favourite sport. There were racist incidents at MSS hockey games initiated by the same school on two occasions. I play on the Manitoulin Mustangs girls’ team, and about half the team are Indigenous players. The first incident occurred on March 1, and the second one took place on March 22.”

“The first time was at Garson Arena, where a fan was cheering for Macdonald-Cartier and making racists gestures toward our team. The fan was hitting his hand on his mouth, imitating an Indian call or war cry,” explained Ms. Peltier.

“The second incident happened after we had lost a game against Macdonald-Cartier in Little Current. Hidden underneath the usual cheering, Macdonald-Cartier players and fans made the war-cry sound,” wrote Ms. Peltier, who pointed out members of her family who were at the game heard it as well. “It was awful.” With the loss, “MSS was eliminated from the playoffs, and Macdonald-Cartier moved on to the championship, with no action taken against the racist gestures. The league took no action because it happened after the buzzer had gone and the game had ended.”

“Although the first incident was upsetting, growing up as an Indigenous person I was taught that racist gestures like these would happen and to be resilient. I expected that Macdonald-Cartier would take the proper measures to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. When the second incident occurred a few weeks later, I was angry that nothing had been done, that Macdonald-Cartier was able to get way with that offensive behaviour. That’s how the Mustangs’ hockey season ended, with the other school mocking my culture.”

“My parents taught me to be proud of my culture and not let ignorant people ruin my favour sport. Hockey was my happy place, but I’m not sure it is any more after those incidents,” wrote Ms. Peltier. “I’m scared for my sister, who will be playing high school hockey next year, because I don’t want her to experience the same thing. After each incident, I felt powerless, alone and ashamed of my heritage. To feel that way, playing a sport I love so much, is awful. There is no way to prepare yourself for this type of discrimination, and we shouldn’t have to. I know the world isn’t perfect, but I thought people my age would know better.”

“Our support system at MSS is strong, and I’m lucky that I have people on my side and that we can discuss issues like racism in a safe environment. As a team, we came together. The MSS administration is doing whatever they can to address the racism we faced,” continued Ms. Peltier.

“However, nearly a month has passed, and nothing has been done (by the Macdonald-Cartier school),” wrote Ms. Peltier. “The team that was so disrespectful to us was still able to play in the championship, facing no consequences.”

“The students from Macdonald-Cartier involved in the incidents should have been required to complete a cultural sensitivity course and be banned from extracurriculars for the rest of the school year.”

Ms. Peltier told The Expositor, “It’s going to be hard playing again. In the first incident, our team manager saw and heard all of this as well. She was very upset about it and she reported it to the arena manager and also let the other team’s coach and administration know. The person involved was ejected from the arena but ended up in the arena lobby for the rest of the game.”

In the second incident, the game was held in the Little Current arena, said Ms. Peltier. “Our school came out to watch the game and our vice-principal heard (the taunting). She said, “our principal (Dave Wiwchar) brought in a mental health support team for the players, to make sure we were okay after what happened.” She pointed out MSS administration contacted administration of Macdonald-Cartier relaying their concerns.

“Growing up Indigenous, you almost expect these type of things happening,” said Ms. Peltier. “But to have it happen twice from one school is awful. They didn’t do anything and the coach of the other team didn’t say anything to the players.”

Ms. Peltier said MSS administration filed a complaint with the league. “I just don’t want any of this happening to another school. It made me feel awful for a long time.”

Carole Dube, director of communications with CSPGNO told The Expositor in an email April 28, “the principal of Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier and the principal of MSS have worked together on this situation.”

“CSPGNO has worked with Ecole Secondaire Macdonald-Cartier staff to identify those involved. The persons involved understand the gravity of their actions. Necessary action has been taken to ensure this situation no longer presents itself,” said Ms. Dube.

“CSPGNO has sent a letter of apology to Miss Peltier regarding the events,” continued Ms. Dube. “CSPGNO is confident that both schools will continue playing their games in hopes of building a harmonious relationship.”

Ms. Dube explained, “As part of the board’s ongoing efforts to eradicate all forms of racism, CSPGNO’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion Officer has been working with its schools in fostering an inclusive environment based on the celebration of diversity. CSPGNO has also been producing cultural sensitivity videos for its students and staff for the past few years.”

“CSPGNO will now be implementing compulsory sessions on cultural sensitivity,” wrote Ms. Dube. “Those will be ongoing in all of its schools. CSPGNO reassures it is committed to promoting respect for all cultures and believes that this incident will push them forward.”

Nicole Charette, senior advisor corporate communications and strategic planning for the Rainbow District School Board told The Expositor in an email April 29, “after both incidents, MSS shared concerns with Ecole Secondaire Macdonald- Cartier.”

“Administration at (MSS) reached out to their school resource officer as well as the Ontario Provincial Police liaison officer who responds to incidents of racism,” wrote Ms. Charette. She further explained, “administration contacted members of the Mnidoo Mnising Crisis Response Team to provide support to the students. The Indigenous support worker and Indigenous students’ success teacher at MSS continue to offer support along with school administration.”

“Our work in building welcoming, safe and inclusive environments for all students extends into the community,” wrote Ms. Charette. “When acts of racism are called out and the hurt these acts cause are acknowledged, we raise awareness, build understanding and affect change.”