This week, Shakita Jensen’s Yellowknife U13 hockey team received new jerseys. All of them were bright orange and all carried the same number: 87.
The 87th call to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asks for “public education that tells the national story of Aboriginal athletes in history.” That’s why the jerseys are here.
The Orange Jersey Project is in its first season, providing jerseys to hockey teams nationwide in a bid to educate athletes and their families about residential schools and their impact. The project is an extension of Orange Shirt Day.
“It’s really special to be part of this. It’s a great thing for the kids, getting the conversation going,” said Jensen, who coaches the Mary Brown’s U13 team.
“These are conversations and discussions happening in other parts of our lives, so why not sport?”
Jensen held a team discussion before the game as jerseys were handed out, focusing on their meaning and importance.
“I know it’s being talked about in schools so it’s asking the kids what they know, the importance of this and what the jerseys are representing,” said Jensen.
“It’s getting the conversation going in sport so we can have understanding for one another, respect, and build our relationships with each other to make sure that sport is a place for everyone.”
Jude Brothers, the 13-year-old team captain, said he was “proud” to wear the jersey and help to demonstrate “how Indigenous people should be represented in sports.”
“They shouldn’t be put down for who they are,” Brothers said. “I’m part-Indigenous and I feel bad for people who are Indigenous and have been discriminated against for no reason.”
Team-mate Grayson Klein, 15, said he had family members who had been to residential school and the jerseys were “important for truth and reconciliation.”
Ryder Jensen, 12, said: “I think it’s a really good thing that people know about this, because of what’s happened in the past with residential schools and all the kids that were forced to go. Everybody should know about this.”
Shakita Jensen said the Yellowknife Minor Hockey Association had introduced her team to the project and presented the opportunity to receive the jerseys, which the players get to keep. Other teams are set to follow suit.
“Hopefully we’ll be a big sea of orange across the North,” she said.