When hockey players of all ages take a shot on net this season, many will find themselves scoring in the name of truth and reconciliation.

A commemorative hockey stick – designed by Snipe and Celly Sports Excellence manager Clay DeBray in an effort to encourage conversations about residential schools and the importance of truth and reconciliation – are now available to purchase, just in time for the 2023-24 hockey season.

“The sticks have been available since last Monday (Sept. 25),” DeBray told Northern Pride. “Close to 3,000 sticks were sent to Canada and they’re spread out amongst 35 Sports Excellence stores nationwide. I brought in 600 and, in this past week, I’ve sold about 300. The marketing aspect is great because the story is out there across the country thanks to all the news outlets. I did interviews with CTV National, CBC National, TSN, you name it. That has helped in terms of prompting sales as well.”

The idea of designing a special hockey stick came to DeBray last year when he was taking orders for numerous orange T-shirts for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. He began to doodle some ideas on his notepad, drawing up different hockey sticks and, once he came up with one he liked, he contacted Sports Excellence headquarters to see if they would support such an initiative. He also consulted elder Eugene Arcand of Muskeg Lake First Nation who, for many years, has been an advisor and a mentor to DeBray. The stick itself features several images including a teddy bear to represent how children in residential schools were not allowed to have the things they would normally use for comfort, a turtle with medicine wheel to represent how everyone lives on Turtle Island and the need to live a holistic lifestyle, the Métis sash because Métis children also attended residential school, hands of different skin tones to represent children of every race and to give a helping hand toward raising awareness, a teardrop to represent how children could not cry without being punished and a feather to represent the eagle and its meaning to First Nations culture.

“People had been pre-ordering sticks, but then I started to receive tons of messages the weekend before the launch so, somehow, it was leaked the sticks would be coming out,” DeBray said. “Hundreds of messages came in, so I began gearing each person to their nearest Sports Excellence store. There’s been all kinds of requests from the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Newfoundland, places where there isn’t a Sports Excellence store, so I will be shipping sticks out as well. It’s become very busy.”

Although the stick was released just prior to this year’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, DeBray said the stick is meant to represent much more than simply one day out of the entire year.

“We were targeting that date so individuals could have there sticks for Sept. 30, but that’s not 100 per cent the reason I designed the stick,” he said “It’s meant to be used today, tomorrow, all winter, to continue the story so it’s not just on Sept. 30.”

This past Saturday, DeBray was in Melville for a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) game between the Melville Millionaires and the Battleford North Stars.

“Both teams used the sticks during the warmup, and now Melville will be auctioning off its sticks with the funds raised going toward an Indigenous youth initiative,” DeBray said.

DeBray also said some sticks that have been purchased won’t even hit the ice at any time, but instead will hang on walls as a commemorative piece.

“I’ve already had quite a few corporations reach out to me for that very reason,” he added. “They want to hang them in their head offices to recognize the Every Child Matters movement.”

DeBray also expressed how proud he is to see his design having such a huge impact.

“The way I look at it is it’s a small part I can play in bringing forth a call to action,” he said. “It is a small part because we can’t forget the dark times, about residential schools and, first and foremost, will always be making sure our residential school survivors are recognized.”

Sticks can be purchased at Snipe and Celly, located at PineRidge Ford Place on Flying Dust First Nation.

“We have them in the store – so locals can come to the store,” DeBray said.

Senior and intermediate sticks sell for $199 while the junior sticks sell for $159.

by Phil Ambroziak