Home News Habs host First Peoples Celebration Night 

Habs host First Peoples Celebration Night 

Courtesy Olivier Cadotte

Win or lose, seeing the Montreal Canadiens play at the Bell Centre is always a special experience, and for at least one group of Kahnawa’kehró:non, Saturday’s game was one to remember. 

This year’s First Peoples Celebration Night at the Bell Centre saw 20 youth, parents, and chaperones from the youth support and foster care programs of the Kahnawà:ke Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) invited to watch the Habs take on the Carolina Hurricanes. 

“The Canadiens took the initiative and invited us, so I’m hoping that we have a sort of partnership developing, to maybe turn this into an annual thing,” said Walter Whitebean, a youth support worker at KSCS. 

The game turned out to be a 3-0 loss, but the result did little to dampen the experience. 

On top of attending the game for free and enjoying the Bell Centre’s famous hot dogs, the group was also given early access to the downtown arena. Along with families from the Anishinaabe Nation of Lac Simon in Abitibi-Temiscamingue, they were given an hour-long skating session on the Bell Centre’s ice. 

Whitebean didn’t need to be asked twice before saying yes to the Canadiens’ skating offer. 

“When I told my wife, she said ‘you’re not even a Montreal Canadiens fan,’ and I told her that it doesn’t matter. When the NHL calls you to go skate on the ice you don’t say no,” said Whitebean. “Every kid grows up thinking about playing in the NHL, and for some of these kids to actually skate on the ice was pretty amazing.” 

A tour of the Bell Centre followed the afternoon skate, as well as photo sessions with Canadiens’ mascot Youppi! Due to concerns regarding at-risk youth, photos of the KSCS group were not made available and were not publicized by the Canadiens. 

Whitebean said that the families were very thankful for the once-in-a-lifetime day. “A lot of these kids don’t necessarily have the same experiences as an ‘average kid,’ so for them to get a different experience that a lot of people don’t get to do, it’s great,” said Whitebean. 

As part of First Peoples Celebration Night, Maliseet graphic designer Maxime Jenniss designed a reimagined Canadiens logo, which adorned pucks, shirt, and jerseys sold that night at the arena. Prior to puck drop, Innu artist Katia Rock sang the Canadian national anthem in French and English, with a few couplets in Innu. 

That, however, was the extent of the in-arena celebrations on March 30, to the disappointment of some in attendance. It contrasted with the much more elaborate celebrations held during last year’s Indigenous Appreciation Night and during Truth and Reconciliation Day in September. 

“Some youth and parents mentioned that they were expecting some sort of Indigenous showing during one of the intermissions, but there wasn’t any,” said Whitebean. “We will bring it up when giving feedback for next time.” 

Despite that, Whitebean still thinks that the experience was very much worthwhile. “It’s one thing to do a land acknowledgment and all that, but it’s another thing to invite these youth to experience this,” said Whitebean. “I think it’s important for them to be partnering with our community because we’re literally 15 minutes from the Bell Centre.” 

The group from KSCS was joined by many other Indigenous invitees; 110 youth from the Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ) were invited to the game. “They came from many cities across Quebec, and were able to come to the game thanks to tickets given by the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation and Ford,” said Myrian Marotte, strategy director communications and public relations for the RCAAQ. 

The families from Lac Simon, where a pilot project of the newly expanded Bleu Blanc Bouge initiative was carried out in the last few months, also were in attendance for the game. 

The program will be brought to Indigenous communities as part of a partnership between the Canadian National Railway and the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation. Over the next five years, an investment of $750,000 will aim to benefit Indigenous youth through the promotion of healthy and active living. It will include the teaching of skating, ice hockey, and ball hockey.  

“Persistent obstacles to sports access, especially in numerous Indigenous communities, exacerbate health disparities among First Nations and Inuit youth,” said Geneviève Paquette, general manager of the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation. 

An auction of signed items from Indigenous Canadiens alumni, Indigenous players from other teams, and women’s hockey players, as well as items with the reimagined logo signed by current players, was held until April 3 to benefit the RCAAQ. 


This article was originally published in print on April 5 in issue 33.14 of The Eastern Door.


Olivier Cadotte
+ posts
Previous articlePeacekeeper supports abuse victims 
Next articleFort Wall restoration underway