When Shenoa Simon stepped onto the ice to present the hockey stick she designed to the player of the game Hilary Knight from the United States team, she was overcome with all kinds of nerves.
“That was so amazing,” said Simon, 21-year-old artist of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. “A little mixture of scared and excited,” is how she described the moment as she found herself out of her comfort zone, garnering the attention of a stadium full of spectators and hearing her name sounding out from the speakers. “In the end, I took really big joy out of it.”
She is one of four Indigenous artists who were selected from over 80 applicants across the country to create original designs for player-of-the-game hockey sticks to be handed out after each of the 31 games of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championship held in Brampton, Ontario, from April 5-16.
“Getting a chance to even show it off and then having other kids getting a chance to do it or be inspired was something that I really tried to get across,” said Simon.
Simon’s design featured a snapping turtle, a nod to the Creation Story of Turtle Island. “Skywoman falls from Sky World, which is where the first people are supposed to be created. And she falls down onto the turtle’s back,” explained Simon, noting she enjoys weaving bits of history into her artwork.
Alongside Simon, Ojibwe artist Angela Jason from Sheshegwaning First Nation, Oji-Cree artist Shawna Boulette Grapentine of Rainy River, and Anishinaabe artist Cathie Jamieson from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation were also selected to each create 25 player-of-the-game hockey sticks.
Sixty-two of the sticks will be dedicated to the player-of-the-game ceremonies and the remaining 38 will be offered as legacy gifting or will be displayed in various institutions, like the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives (PAMA).
“It was really, really amazing to see two of the artists be able to present their own designs on the ice,” said Hockey Canada’s Khanh Be, who led the player-of-the-game initiative.
Be was committed to helping tell the artists’ stories and amplifying their work, noting the artists received a cash commission on top of having their work showcased on the national broadcast and within the venue.
“Using our platform to show off this incredible artistry that exists within the Indigenous community is such a huge celebration for us. And we know that there’s such strong ties to the game of hockey within Indigenous communities,” said Be.
Hockey Canada had previously featured the work of Indigenous artists at the 2023 World Juniors. But this is the first time the final selection comprised an all-woman roster – something that didn’t go unnoticed by Jason.
“It’s just a really good step forward and just being able to have your artwork seen on a kind of a national, worldwide scale is pretty cool,” said Jason.
She opted to paint a woman’s face, characterized with minimal, vague features. “The idea of that is, any woman is the foundation of their community, because women play various roles in their communities, whether that’s a caretaker, whether it’s a helper, whether it’s providing protection,” she said. The figure is encircled by provincial and territorial flowers, stylized in Ojibwe fashion.
She wanted to highlight the overlooked qualities of flowers – like their versatility and resilience – beyond their beauty.
“Each has its struggles, but each is able to still flourish,” she said of the flowers, drawing parallels between their resilience and that of the women in her life and the hardships they’ve overcome as First Nations, be it addiction, abuse, and residentials schools.
Boulette Grapentine took a similar approach to the project, one that celebrates the women’s tenacity.
“There’s so many different hats we wear and such a wide range of strengths that we learn throughout our lives watching our grandmothers, mothers,” she said, referring to everything in and in between maintaining a household and pursuing a career.
True to her style using bold, bright colours, she depicted the female face with flowing, multicolour hair, noting her style often references childhood memories anchored in peace and strength, growing up in a small community on the northeastern shores of Lake Winnipeg.
To her, the national platform and exposure the project allowed meant a lot. “It’s just such a great honour,” she said of the initiative’s importance in representing Indigenous women and their cultures through artwork.
This sentiment was echoed by Jamieson, for whom the significance of the project lay in exchanges and relationship building it allowed. “Other people that have their own creative stories and their ways of telling stories. It’s a knowing that at times, we do have universal crossovers.”
Jamieson’s design portrays an eagle – known for its dominance in the hierarchy of birds – which she used to highlight the role of women as messengers in matriarchal communities.
“The height, the way it soars, its agility, its speed, every and all characteristics it endows, that’s what, majority of the time, our leaders try to strive for,” she said, observing these same qualities in the women on the ice.
Complete with circles and a floral design, the stick she designed, much like her other artwork, is a segue into storytelling to understand the underlying meanings of symbols, signs, lines, and circles are reflected.
She was glad to see that the initiative brought together women artists and athletes, and it went beyond the ice to reach a countrywide audience.
“I think it brought into that (crossover) again, what’s the message of women to women, across the world to all women?”