'An honour': Edmonton Oilers defenceman wears jersey with Cree syllabics

CBC

An Indigenous NHL player paid special homage to his nation on his jersey during Tuesday night's Battle of Alberta between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. 

During the exhibition game, Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear wore a jersey with his name written in Cree syllabics. The 23-year-old is from the Ochapowace Nation in southern Saskatchewan.

In a statement posted on the NHL website, Bear said he was wearing the jersey for all Indigenous players who came before him and for Indigenous kids dreaming of playing in the NHL.

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"It will be an honour to wear this jersey tonight," Bear said on Tuesday before the game.

The Oilers beat the Calgary Flames 4-1 in the exhibition game, the only one for the two teams prior to the weekend start of the NHL's Stanley Cup qualifiers.

Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, a Cree chief and a member of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, also commended Bear for wearing the jersey in a statement on an NHL blog.

Littlechild said it's especially significant because of the many years it took for Cree to secure the right to use their own writing system.

"Ethan brings all of us great pride with his strength and natural ability to overcome challenges," he said.

"This is significant and people everywhere will be reminded when they see the syllabics on Ethan's jersey to have courage, be confident and be brave."

Littlechild said the spirit name in Cree for bear, maskwa, is representative of the sacred teachings of courage.

Tom Meneen is a councillor with the Tallcree First Nation in northern Alberta.

He said it's important for Indigenous kids to have a higher profile role model, especially those aspiring to play high-level hockey.

"For lots of youngsters, that's a big deal," Meneen said.

"I've coached hockey for many years ... and you're hoping there's somebody out there that they can look up to and have more players at that level of hockey. That would be great for a lot of kids."

Meneen said he's reached out to try to get a signed jersey from Bear.

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