As the Montreal Force professional women’s hockey team took to the ice last Sunday for their game against the Minnesota Whitecaps, they weren’t wearing their usual burgundy, black, and white colours. Instead, the entire team donned jerseys designed by artist Ganadiyoh Jada Hopper, who is Onondaga and lives in Kahnawake, for a fundraising initiative that raised $7,035 for Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest.
“People talk about being so open and so supportive, but for me, being in the Black community, when people say stuff like that, I’m always asking, where is the proof? Where is the action?” said Kevin Raphaël, president of the team, which competes in the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF). “So having Brooke on the team and having some conversations with her, I said, ‘OK, let’s get this jersey made, let’s actually do something. I’ll give you carte blanche, do anything, and I’ll deal with the rest.’”
Raphaël had spoken with Kahnawa’kehró:non Brooke Stacey about the possibility of supporting an initiative close to home. The Iakwahwatsiratátie Language Nest was the first place she thought of.
“I knew it was perfect. I think what they do is amazing, parents with young children get to go there and do activities and learn the language, which I just think is so important,” Stacey explained. “In a lot of generations, you have one generation who speaks but not the next, and you don’t have anyone at home to speak with. That kind of happened with me growing up. So I think it’s amazing that they’re doing all of this.”
Hopper, who has lived in Kahnawake for 15 years, wanted to make sure the design reflected the heart of Iakwahwatsiratátie.
“We are mothers teaching our children a language and culture that was almost taken away from us. What’s important to Kahnawake and all Onkwehón:we? Rising above hardship and oppression. Keeping our traditions, language, and culture alive. I thought of how I could portray all of that,” she said.
Each and every aspect of the design has a meaning.
“I chose the woman figure to be the main focus of this design. She represents all females and mothers, but is coloured red to bring awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, many of whom still have families left behind without answers,” she said. “The two child figures that stand below her and under the ground are orange for the thousands of Indigenous children forcefully taken from their mothers and lost to residential schools.”
Hopper also included imagery of sprouts growing from the ground, which she described as “celestial trees” and the design is overlaid on a large pale circle, representing Grandmother Moon.
“This represents that despite our hardships and oppression, we are still here as Indigenous people, carrying on the ways of our ancestors,” she said.
When the staff at Iakwahwatsiratátie saw the design, they were blown away.
“To say we loved it is an understatement,” said Ieronhienhawi McComber, co-coordinator at Iakwahwatsiratátie. She explained that they chose to ask Hopper to do the design because of her connection to Iakwahwatsiratátie.
“Ganadiyoh has attended our program with her children and grandchildren off and on over a span of several years, so she knows what we are all about,” said McComber. “She began with very little Kanien’kéha speaking proficiency and has become an advanced speaker, so she understands the hardships of not only learning our language, but becoming a proficient speaker while raising a family.”
The entire team’s shirts were auctioned off at the game to raise funds for Iakwahwatsiratátie. Stacey was thrilled to hear that over $7,000 was raised at the auction, which started on game day. Her own shirt was sold for $1,310.
“The auction took place in the arena, so there was nothing online or anything. I was really surprised that it was that much money. I was shocked, and I was happy at the same time,” she said. “It brought more people to the game too, because if you wanted a jersey, you had to be there.”
The funds will make a big difference to Iakwahwatsiratátie, which relies on donations like this to continue their operations. Aside from Iakwahwatsiratátie’s usual language immersion program during the daytime, extra funding allows the organization to run evening language classes for those who are unable to attend during the day, as well as to create more resources for families to learn the language at home.
“We have been operating since 2014 and have not acquired any core funding as of yet. We rely on grants, donations, and fundraisers to carry us through every year,” explained McComber. “It is extremely stressful when you don’t know if your program will be funded the following year… Any and all donations relieve some of that stress and also give us a little bit of a cushion when we need to bridge funding between sources.”
Raphaël hopes to continue the initiative in the future and give players a chance to design jerseys for a fundraiser each year. For now, Hopper’s design will sit in the city hall of neighbouring St. Jerome.
“I was speaking with the mayor, and I said, ‘I’m leaving you a jersey,’ and he said, ‘you know what, we’re going to put the jersey at the Hotel-de-Ville, and it’s going to stay there for as long as you want it to be,’” Raphaël explained.
Hopper has been delighted to see her design go from pen and paper to jerseys on the ice – especially for a cause so close to her heart.
“I’m a little blown away, because when I designed the logo, I honestly didn’t know what a huge event it would be,” she said. “I’m just happy to do something that would benefit Iakwahwatsiratátie!”