World Jr. The Championship’s Player of the Game awards feature art from 4 Wabanaki artists

Four artists have piled in hundreds of hours of work over the past month, all in an effort to showcase their art at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championships in Halifax and Moncton

Lorne Julien of Millbrook First Nation, 61 kilometers north of Halifax, wanted to honor his family’s connection to Mi’kmaq hockey sticks. The Mi’kmaw are believed to have made the first modern hockey sticks.

Julien’s research shows that his great-grandfather, Joseph Julien, once worked as part of a collective in the early 1900s to fill an order for 12,000 hockey sticks for Eaton’s.

Now he hopes his family’s history will be carried forward when one of his sticks is presented to a “player of the game” winner.

Lorne Julien, a Mi'kmaw man in a red shirt, holds up two hockey sticks with his designs, a bald eagle with an orange heart.
Lorne Julien is a Mi’kmaw artist from Millbrook First Nation and designed and painted hockey sticks for the World Juniors. He designed a bald eagle with an orange heart for his sticks, which also include Mi’kmaq motifs. The eagle represents love and protection, and the orange heart represents residential school survivors and those who didn’t make it home. (Dan Froese Photography)

“It feels great because these sticks will be treasured forever,” Julien said.

Between Monday and January 5, 2023, teams from around the world will play in 31 games in the 2023 International Ice Hockey World Junior Championship. One player from each team will be recognized as “Player of the Game” and take home a prize package – including a hand-painted stick .

Each stick features Wabanaki motifs, eagle depictions, and each one shares its own story. Julien and three other artists from Atlantic Canada were selected to create the awards.

Emma Hassencahl-Perley is an indigenous artist wearing a black top and brown hair.
Emma Hassencahl-Perley is a Wolastoqey artist who based her player of the game’s hockey sticks on archival photos of birchbark art style. (Harvey Studios)

Emma Hassencahl-Perley, a Wolastoqey artist from Neqotkuk, Tobique First Nation 123 kilometers northwest of Fredericton, said her design honors birch bark art from the region, something she is proud to take to the world stage.

“Our art needs to be everywhere,” said Hassencahl-Perley, 27. “It’s a reflection of who we are, it’s where we come from, it’s our visual language, and it’s deserved.”

The Wabanaki Confederacy consists of the Wolastoqey, Mi’kmaq, Abenaki, Peskotomuktahi, and Penosbcot.

She said in the world of Indigenous art, sometimes work from Atlantic Canada gets lost. But the international tournament gives a chance for the whole world to appreciate the design.

A purple hockey stick featuring a native man playing ice hockey, with an eagle, star and snowflake image.
Game player hockey stick for the 2023 IIHF World Juniors Championship designed and painted by Emma Hassencahl-Perley. The images are inspired by archive art of birch bark. (submitted by Emma Hassencahl-Perley )

Hassencahl-Perley said that the moment one of those players receives a trophy designed by her, she will feel happy.

“It’s like an honor for me at the same time that they receive an honor for their dedication and for achieving their goals,” Hassencahl-Perley said.

Robin Paul, a Qalipu Mi’kmaw artist from Newfoundland, lives in Welamukotuk, Oromoctou First Nation, 12 miles southeast of Fredericton. She designed a stick with an eagle that carries the seven grandfather teachings: courage, love, wisdom, respect, truth, humility and honesty.

Robin Paul is a native artist wearing gold earrings, brown hair and an orange top
Robin Paul is a Qalipu Mi’kmaw artist who designed and painted 20 hockey sticks for the 2023 IIHF World Juniors. (Submitted by Robin Paul.)

She said the artists had a week after being selected to paint 20 sticks each, and she spent between 10 and 15 hours a day working to finish her work.

Finishing them, she said, was a testament to her commitment.

“I’m so proud of how far I was able to get with my artwork, I didn’t think I’d be doing anything like this,” Paul, 40, said.

A painted eagle on the blade of a feathered hockey stick that includes the seven grandfather teachings.
Robin Paul, a Qalipu Mi’kmaw artist designed and painted player of the game hockey stick awards. (submitted by Robin Paul)

Paul’s sons played hockey and the sport was a great way to bring her family together. It filled her with pride to watch the World Junior Hockey Championships take a moment to showcase the original talent.

“To have a focus on local indigenous communities is just a great honour,” said Paul.

“I don’t just paint for myself. I paint for my people, I paint for our land and our water,” said Natalie Sappier. (Submitted by Natalie Sappier)

For Natalie Sappier, a Wolastoqey artist also from Neqotkuk, painting the sticks was a way to honor her hockey-playing family.

“I think of hockey as a community, when we get together, there’s always laughter, and it just symbolizes so much,” Sappier, 40, said.

Being selected filled her with joy and pride, she said, but she’s also grateful for the chance to make her community proud.

“I paint for my people, I paint for our land and our water,” Sappier said

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) partnered with Mawi’Art: Wabanaki Artist Collective to identify local talent.

Originally they were looking for a Mi’kmaw artist and a Wolastoqey artist, but the board accepted all four applications they received based on the talent they saw.

Grant MacDonald, head of the local IIHF event in 2023, said inclusive Indigenous talent and stories were part of local bids offer to host the games.

He said the IIHF wanted to remind people of the Mi’kmaw’s connection to the sport.

“We want to educate and we want people to understand that this sport has some unique roots in this part of the world,” MacDonald said.

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