January 20, 2023

By Alex De Pape, APTN Communications Coordinator and Ginaya Jesmer, APTN Communications Assistant

To continue celebrating Hockey Night In Canada in Cree and more Indigenous hockey players making it to the NHL, APTN’s hockey fans can now add to their card collections with worldwide sports and entertainment company Upper Deck’s First Peoples Rookie Card pack.

Featuring Indigenous players from Canada, this brand-new mini card pack is produced by Upper Deck and looks back at the accomplishments of former Indigenous NHLers who have never had a rookie card. Graphic designer Jacob Alexis, and Indigenous rookie card collector and researcher, Naim Cardinal, began creating the collection in the spring of 2020, in collaboration with Upper Deck, a process that lasted several months.

Upper Deck decided which players they wanted to feature and took the time to interview the players and their families, making sure to include that information on the backs of the cards. The players featured in the groundbreaking deck are Bill LeCaine, Dan Frawley, Danny Hodgson, Jason Simon, Johnny Harms, Rocky Trottier, Ted Nolan and Victor Mercredi.

As a member of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation in Alberta and a lifelong hockey fan and amateur player, Alexis understood the importance of this project. But he also used his Indigenous cultural upbringing to influence his work on this particular project.

“Being Indigenous, we try to do the most in little spaces. You look at outfits and regalia and you see all the shapes, colours and stories being told—there’s just so much going on in one little area,” says Alexis. “That’s what representation means to us, we try to say as much as we can in one little area. As a graphic designer, I’ve developed a process where I try to do that in my own way with everything that I do, whether it’s corporate or Indigenous art; I try to implement it into everything.”

Two thousand sets of these cards are going to be distributed to members of the public for free, starting at various Indigenous community events, Indigenous hockey camps and an Indigenous-owned Certified Diamond Dealer hobby shop called First Row Collectibles. On Jan. 21, 2023, two players will sign their own hockey cards in hobby shops where attendees can pick up packs as well. Dan Frawley will be signing cards at MBA Sports in Belleville, Ont., and Danny Hodgson will be signing at All In Sports Den in Fort McMurray, Alta.

Hockey’s Indigenous Roots

There is anecdotal evidence of the Mi’kmaq playing a major role in hockey’s roots in the 1600s. The game was called oochamkunutk in Mi’kmaq, but newspapers of the day would sometimes refer to it as “Ricket.” It was played in a field using wooden sticks and a ball, and the “puck” was made from frozen apples, cherrywood, and eventually rubber after settlers imported the material. Other names for the game included duwarken, alchamadijik, hurling and hurley.

Since then, hockey has evolved to include a broad range of fans, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. It played a strong role in the military, with some historians arguing that hockey’s roots were solidified by the military during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century. It became a way to strengthen the ties of community and camaraderie, connect with friends and loved ones and experience a rush of adrenaline as metal blades whizzed across the ice rink.

In recent years, APTN has taken that sentiment of culture and camaraderie and turned it into Hockey Night in Canada in Cree, which delivers NHL games to audiences across the country—entirely in Plains Cree. These broadcasts, much like the new rookie card set from Upper Deck, are part of a major turning point in Canada; they bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians together on the path towards reconciliation. Now in its second year, this series from APTN and Sportsnet is continuing to share Plains Cree with audiences across the country, honouring Indigenous ancestors and inspiring future generations to learn the language as well.

Hockey fans across the country tuned in on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023 to watch the Edmonton Oilers face off against the Vancouver Canucks. The new Upper Deck First Peoples Rookie card set was featured during halftime of Saturday’s game—fans can check out the unique feature here and here.