Asper student builds cultural bridge between Indigenous community and Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Earlier this year the Winnipeg Blue Bombers set a new record. Thanks to an initiative from a student in the Asper School of Business, the Bombers became the first CFL team to acknowledge the land they play on is on traditional Indigenous territory.
Brayden Harper, 20, is in his third year of the commerce program. This summer he’s working with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – as an intern. He was asked to develop relationships with Indigenous communities in Winnipeg and surrounding areas. After doing some research, Harper met with Justin Rasmussen and Christine Cyr from the Indigenous Student Centre. Together they came up with the idea of incorporating an acknowledgement statement into every home game.
A few days before the first pre-season game at Investors Group Field, Harper was passing Bomber’s president Wade Miller on the concourse, and stopped to pitch the idea of reading a statement to acknowledge the Indigenous territory for every home game.
“I was nervous, but I just kept thinking that this is the right thing to do and it’s such a small piece, but it means a world of a difference to the Indigenous community. It’s all about the small steps in my opinion,” says Harper.
Miller discussed the idea with Hannah Pratt, manager of community relations and on July 2nd, the day of the first home pre-season game, Harper learned the Bombers were going ahead with his pitch. At every home game, before O Canada is sung, the acknowledgement statement will be heard by every fan watching the game.
“When I actually heard the statement live before the national anthem, my heart sputtered. It felt great,” says Harper. “I was so proud. I started getting text messages from family and friends who said that they heard the statement. Christine and Justin were absolutely shocked! I was busy during the game, but I made it up to their section and was greeted with wide arm hugs and high fives! I knew that there were many Indigenous brothers and sisters that heard that statement and that the Treaty Commissioner would be impressed.”
Harper says acknowledging the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples is as much about recognizing the lands the stadium sits on as it is about relationships — the relationship with The Winnipeg Football Club and Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The statement is also steeped in Indigenous culture.
“Native Tribes had clear boundaries that separated them from one another. If you crossed into another group’s territory, then you had to request for permission — kind of like how we get stamps or visas on our passports for traveling — if permission was granted, people of all colours and background were welcomed warmly and with safe passage. I feel like this statement respects the land that our Elders fought so hard to care for and is movement forward in terms of truth and reconciliation,” says Harper.
As simple as the acknowledgement statement is, it has a huge impact in breaking down barriers. It recognizes Indigenous people as the traditional owners of the land, while promoting awareness of the past treatment of Indigenous peoples as well as the ongoing process of truth and reconciliation.
“Indigenous culture was broken in the past and this statement is a move towards to the rebirth of a thriving culture bestowed without judgement, hate, or confinement,” says Harper. “Societal views are changing, but the process is slow and organizations need to begin re-developing relationships with Indigenous people slowly and respectfully.”