RED DEER – Recognizing the need for change in sport culture, Hockey Alberta set out to understand the extent to which racism and lack of inclusion impacts hockey across the province. The organization formed the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Task Force in October 2021. Over the last seven months, the task force has been working to change the narrative.
June marks the celebration of Pride Month and National Indigenous History Month. Members of the task force include Justin Connelly, who identifies as a gay male, and Devin Buffalo, a member of the Samson Cree Nation.
Connelly sits on the Board of Directors of the Calgary Inclusive Hockey Association (CIHA). Pioneers of LGBTQ+ hockey awareness in Alberta, the CIHA has a spot on the roster for everyone of all skill levels. Connelly’s own hockey experience has allowed him to bring a unique perspective to the EDI Task Force.
“The reason why I joined Hockey Alberta’s EDI Task Force is because I want to be able to give back to the game and sport that have meant so much to me. I have played, volunteered and worked in hockey the majority of my life,” said Connelly. “But at the age of 17, I stopped playing, I felt different. I didn’t feel included in the sport, in the game that I love. At the age of 23, I came out and realized it was okay to be myself. My true and genuine self, be confident, and still play the sport I love. I want to be able to give back and for other people like me to feel the exact same way. I want to make sure that hockey is an inclusive, open and a safe place for them so they can play the sport they love and be who they are without anyone standing in their way.”
Buffalo is a member of the Samson Cree Nation and grew up in Wetaskiwin. Over the course of his minor hockey career, he faced racism. He chose to overcome the remarks by showing what he was capable of on the ice. His goaltending career led him to the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and his performances earned him a scholarship to Dartmouth College. In his third season, he was nominated for the prestigious Hobey Baker Memorial award for the top men’s hockey player in the NCAA.
“As an indigenous player playing hockey in Alberta, I faced racism and stereotypes. In particular, during a racial incident in hockey there was a feeling of fear, confusion, I really had no idea what to do in the moment. No one to turn to,” said Buffalo. “Like many players who have faced racism in hockey there was no outlet, or I didn’t feel safe sharing what happened to me at the time. Threatened that my position might get taken away from me, etc.”
After five seasons playing professionally in the East Coast Hockey League, Buffalo returned to Alberta to set his sights on new goals. In 2020, he began Waniska Athletics, named for a Cree word that means “wake up and rise,” Buffalo has delivered hockey camps and virtual school tours to Indigenous youth. He is currently attending law school at the University of Alberta.
“I really do think that this committee is headed in the right direction in Hockey Alberta and it’s very exciting to be a part of that,” said Buffalo. “When I had this opportunity to join this task force I thought maybe it was a good opportunity to have my voice heard and to have an influence in policy making and to make a difference so that no other indigenous hockey player had to deal with that and they had avenues and they had ways and people to support them.”
During the month of June, celebrate Pride and National Indigenous History Month while taking the time to listen to the stories. The EDI Task Force is listening to the experiences to improve the game of hockey for the better. Hockey Alberta encourages everyone to step up and make the game more inclusive for every individual because hockey is for everyone.