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Regardless of which team wins the Stanley Cup — the Las Vegas Golden Knights or the Florida Panthers — Indigenous Peoples will have cause for celebration.

That’s because each of the two Cup finalists has First Nations representation.

Golden Knight defenceman Zach Whitecloud is from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in Manitoba; Panther defenceman Brandon Montour is from the Six Nations of the Grand River (Canada’s largest) reserve in Ontario.

As Eugene Arcand — who told his story last fall on in 781: A Story of Sports and Survival in Canadian Residential School — so aptly put it, “Stanley is going to be visiting the rez.”

Clay DeBray, a Metis from Duck Lake, Sask., is thrilled about that prospect, but the manager of a sporting goods store on the Flying Dust First Nation reserve adjacent to Meadow Lake, Sask., is also looking forward to something else that he believes will honour and embrace Indigenous Peoples’ connection to hockey and vice versa.

It’s a hockey stick; one that DeBray conceived and, with help from his pal Eugene, designed in the hopes that it will become part of the much broader conversation revolving around the Every Child Matters movement and Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30.

DeBray is eagerly awaiting the arrival in late August or early September of the first order of 3,000 Every Child Matter (ECM) sticks that will be available for purchase online or in select Sports Excellence outlets across Canada. Just in time for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30.

“I’ve been selling thousands of Every Child Matters orange T-shirts for years now,” said DeBray, who operates the Snipe and Celly Sports Excellence retail outlet that is owned by the Flying Dust First Nation. “But a lot of people take that orange T-shirt off, and they don’t ever put it on again until a year later. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we had an orange Every Child Matters hockey stick that players could actually use and maybe that would generate more year-round conversation and awareness of residential schools in Canada and what Every Child Matters is really all about.”

The 45-year-old DeBray attended one of Canada’s last residential schools before they were finally shut down, graduating in 1996 from the same St. Michael’s Residential School that Eugene attended.

“I was fortunate to not have suffered the atrocities at residential school that my adoptive parents did and so many others did who went through that system before me,” DeBray said. “My purpose is not to shame anyone, but we all need to walk together and have a conversation and educate everyone on the trauma and the cost to our people and culture.”

So, DeBray and Arcand began doodling and it wasn’t long before they came up with a stick prototype design. DeBray knew they wanted the stick not to just be something ceremonial that would get hung up on a wall but something his own children would be able to use in their hockey games.

“It had to be playable,” DeBray said. “It had to be a quality product that could be used by kids or adults. And it had to have meaning.”

That it does. It’s a mostly black carbon fibre stick with vibrant orange ECM (Every Child Matters) type that was designed to look like it’s coming out of darkness. There are six symbols in total on the stick, and they all carry deep meaning in the context of residential schools and Indigenous Peoples culture.

The first five appear on the shaft of the stick:

— An orange Teddy Bear, because residential school children were not allowed to have these while attending these institutions and survivors are able to carry teddy bears with them now for comfort and joy.

— An orange teardrop, to signify the thousands of tears shed from children who attended residential schools and the hurt and pain these children and survivors endured.

— Four shades of skin-toned hands to represent all races and the need for people of every colour to show a hand in the awareness and education of a dark era.

— An Indigenous-drawn turtle with a medicine wheel graphic, representing Turtle Island and the use of traditional beliefs along with medicine to live a holistic life.

— A traditional Metis sash, representing the numerous Metis who attended residential schools with First Nation people.

The sixth and final symbol, an orange eagle feather, is the largest and takes up most of the blade. The feather is most sacred in Plains Cree culture and this feather represents all the leaders and individuals that are actively bringing awareness to the cause. DeBray and Arcand say that when a goal is scored using this stick and lifted in celebration, the feather will be the closest to the Creator.

Coming up with the idea for the stick and designing it was one thing; getting it manufactured was something else.

Initial overtures were made to commercial hockey stick manufacturers but there was some hesitancy on their part. Not because they didn’t believe in the cause per se, but there were concerns that there are so many good causes out there that might want or expect the same opportunity.

So DeBray reached out to the Sports Excellence leadership group to gauge its interest in getting involved with the project. Sports Excellence was founded in 1950 and is the buying group for 200 independent sporting goods retailers across Canada and the United States.

DeBray said his overture was well received by Sports Excellence executives, but they were still a little cautious because they didn’t want to do anything that could be viewed as cultural appropriation for profit. DeBray and Arcand eased those fears for Sports Excellence.

“It’s funny, Clay and I had never discussed it but we both had the same thought about the need for the stick,” Eugene said. “I watched the World Junior Championship last Christmas, and the players of the game were getting sticks with Indigenous artwork on them. I thought to myself, it would be great if there were Indigenous-themed sticks that could be used in a real game, not just for ceremony.

“I didn’t know it, but Clay had the same thought, and he was already thinking of how that could be done. So, when he first reached out to me to tell me about the idea, I was blown away by that. It was a great collaboration, the younger generation working with the older generation. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

For his part, DeBray knew it would be important to have Arcand involved in the project.

“Eugene is a very well-respected elder both inside our community and outside of it,” DeBray said. “He was instrumental in making it happen.”

Clay and Eugene got on a conference call with Sports Excellence executives, who had read Eugene’s 781 story on as part of the preparation for the call. Eugene assured them this was a project that Indigenous Peoples would view as worthwhile and positive.

DeBray and Arcand then rolled things out to include the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg, the Orange Shirt Society (founded in Williams Lake, B.C. by Phyllis Webstad) and the Saskatchewan Survivors Circle (chaired by Eugene).

A portion of the proceeds from every ECM stick sold will be split equally between those three groups. Each independent Sports Excellence-associated retailer will make some profit by selling the branded Excellence of Sport (EOS) stick but only after the three designated Indigenous causes get their share.

Once Sports Excellence leadership was assured of Indigenous community support for their involvement, it was full steam ahead on logistics for DeBray and Sports Excellence.

In order to get sticks manufactured in time to sell/ship by early September, an order had to be put into the European manufacturer by mid-May. Of the first run of 3,000, DeBray put in an order for 700 to be sold at his Snipe and Celly location in Meadow Lake. In the first six hours after letting people know the sticks were for sale, he got 200 pre-purchase orders. He’s looking forward now to marketing the sticks, creating more awareness and hopefully putting in much larger manufacturing orders for the future.

“I coached [NHL defenceman] Ethan Bear, and [AHL defenceman] Brady Keeper, and I coached against Zach Whitecloud. I’d love to get sticks to them, maybe they could use them in warm up,” DeBray said. “I would love for all Indigenous [pro] players to get a stick. I know the WHL has a stick deal but maybe there are opportunities for players or teams to use them in warm up to create more awareness.

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“The [orange and black] stick really stands out, so when people see them, I think a lot of them will say, ‘What’s this stick all about? Which is why the stick was created — to generate conversation and awareness for Every Child Matters.”

“The [orange and black] stick really stands out, so when people see them, I think a lot of them will say, ‘What’s this stick all about? Which is why the stick was created — to generate conversation and awareness for Every Child Matters.”

The ECM senior stick will come in 85 and 75 flex; the intermediate stick in 65 and 55 flex; and the junior version in 45 and 35 flex. The senior and intermediate sticks retail for $199 and the junior stick $159.

There are plans to introduce an ECM goalie stick in the near future. There have also been discussions about producing ECM mini-sticks.

DeBray said anyone wanting more information on the ECM stick can reach out to their local Sports Excellence retailer or contact DeBray at his Snipe and Celly store in Meadow Lake.

“The stick is going to make a real impact,” Arcand said. “I’ve seen it already. When I show it to [residential school] survivors or their families, it’s very emotional. They get choked up. There are tears. It’s so meaningful to them.

“I was showing the stick to [country singer] George Canyon — he wants to get a goalie stick when they become available — and a couple of kids, I think they were maybe 12 years old or so, were passing by and saw the stick. They couldn’t believe it. They didn’t know who we were or what the stick was all about, but they were very intrigued by it. I showed them the symbols and icons on it and explained them all and what each of them meant. It’s not just a hockey stick; it’s all about public education and understanding.”