The chief of the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) is throwing his support behind the Vancouver Canucks after the NHL team faced accusations of cultural appropriation surrounding its logo and a goaltender’s mask this week.
WLFN Chief Willie Sellars, a longtime goaltender himself with the Central Interior Hockey League’s Williams Lake Stampeders, said as a First Nations leader and as a hockey fan he is supportive of the Canucks’ trademarked, Coast Salish-nation inspired orca logo and of the team.
“As a First Nations leader I couldn’t be more proud how much the Vancouver Canucks are celebrating First Nations culture in the NHL,” Sellars said. “They have a pretty cool logo in my opinion and, as far as I know, it was developed with the permission of the First Nation in that territory.
“That’s my team. That’s who I cheer for, and I’ve always taken great pride in that logo. I’m 100 per cent OK if it stays the way it is, but if they’re going to change it there should be local First Nations involved.”
Sellars said he’s seen improvement across the country on how reconciliation is being approached, and said he thinks the City of Vancouver has done an exceptional job.
“Obviously, it’s not perfect but, we’re trending in the right direction and that’s what we like to see as First Nations leaders,” he said. “(Reconciliation is) happening and that’s what we have to acknowledge.”
Sean Carleton, a historian and Indigenous Studies scholar at the University of Manitoba, opened up the discussion on Twitter recently, noting sports teams in Cleveland, Washington and Edmonton have shed their names and logos after they were deemed inappropriate.
In light of sports teams in Cleveland, Washington, and Edmonton getting rid of racist and appropriated Indigenous team names/logos, it's time to have a discussion about the Vancouver @Canucks's Indigenous appropriated Orca logo. Here's a thread. pic.twitter.com/QCuR6zoBae
— Sean Carleton (@SeanCarleton) December 14, 2020
Canucks goaltender Braden Holtby sparked the backlash earlier this week after unveiling his new goalie mask, created by Swedish artist David Gunnarson, which builds on the Coast Salish legend of the Thunderbird.
“The huge Thunderbird is flying over the mountains to the ocean to catch orcas with his huge claws … A totally perfect story to create on a Canucks mask,” Gunnarson said in his original Instagram unveiling of the Indigenous-inspired artwork, which has since been deleted.
Here’s a look Braden Holtby’s new #Canucks mask courtesy of artist David Gunnarson on IG: pic.twitter.com/z1K5eA1rUE
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) December 11, 2020
Sellars said he loves the idea of Indigenous culture being celebrated in professional sports, however, said he would have liked to see West Coast Indigenous culture honoured more by working with a local, Indigenous artist from the area.
“I love the mask, by the way, but you need to follow and honour the people whose traditional territory you are in,” he said.
Holtby has since issued a public apology noting he didn’t mean to offend anyone.
“It was definitely not my intent and I definitely learned a valuable lesson through this all and will make sure I’m better moving forward and do the thing that help this community the most,” Holtby said in an interview with CTV Vancouver.
“The goal was and still is to include Indigenous artist and try and pick their brain to see how they would design a mask to best represent the history and culture around this area especially because it’s so vast.”
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