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Sports ᒫᑎᐧᐋᐧᐃᓐ

Madison Maness and Indigenous women’s hockey

BY Joshua Janke May 30, 2024

Madison Maness, a 12-year-old from Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia, Ontario, recently had the honour of carrying the Toronto Maple Leafs’ flag before their first-round playoff game against the Boston Bruins. 

Her journey from playing in First Nations hockey tournaments to representing her community on a national stage reflects the growing visibility of Indigenous athletes in mainstream sports. Madison’s mother, Stephanie, said her daughter has been playing hockey for as long as she’s been walking. She has played for her Aamjiwnaang team in a tournament in Toronto for several years. During the tournament, she was chosen to be the flag carrier in game 3 of the series. 

Stephanie says that after Madison participated in the Little NHL (The Little Native Hockey League) tournament in March, the Leafs contacted tournament organizers for a player to carry the flag during the playoffs.

“They were looking for an Indigenous female hockey player, and they recommended Madison. She was a little hesitant and nervous at first, but I was like, ‘This is an opportunity that we’re not going to pass up,’” said Stephanie. 

Upon arrival at the Scotiabank Arena April 24, Madison was feeling the pressure. “My heart was beating really fast when we got there and had the dress rehearsal,” said the sixth grader, who practiced the flag-waving technique and got equipped with an earpiece that she would listen to for guidance during the big moment. 

“After the rehearsal, I was fine and calm,” she said. “I thought I was going to be more nervous, but I was really excited. I never thought I would be able to do this, being a really big fan of the Leafs for years now.”

A member of the Mooretown Lady Flags U13 team, Madison’s friends back home were thrilled to see their teammate repping their team on national television before an NHL hockey game.

“My teammates were so supportive, and everyone was texting me good luck,” Madison said. 

Her parents were the proudest of all, with her mother noting the positive impact her daughter’s opportunity has had on women’s sports in Aamjiwnaang. “The whole community has been supportive, and everyone has been bragging about it and cheering her on,” said Stephanie. “She has two younger sisters who look up to her and were excited for her. It’s great for women’s hockey and that’s been awesome to see.”

It was a big moment for the proud mom. “I’m not going to lie, when she was out there doing her thing yesterday, I was definitely crying,” she acknowledged.

Madison’s father, Jamie, said he was a bundle of nerves in the days leading up to the game. 

“I couldn’t sleep the night before” he said. “I was more a wreck than she was. But she nailed it and did a good job.” 

As for Madison, she hit the ice and skated smoothly while waving the flag proudly. She had a glowing smile when she gave high fives to the players who she and her parents would be watching rinkside moments later.

Madison says that having the earpiece that connected her with her dress rehearsal team off the ice was what allowed her to soak in the once-in-a-lifetime moment. “Skating out was really fun. The ice was so smooth and so big that when I first hit the ice and I had a few nerves but just kept going.”

Indigenous players in the new Professional Women’s Hockey League are also creating buzz in hockey bleachers and dressing rooms across Canada. The PWHL got underway New Year’s Day, and games have been regularly selling out in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. The league also has teams in Minnesota, Boston and New York. Two of these players are Victoria Bach and Jocelyne Larocque, who both play for Toronto.

“Honestly, I can’t put it into words how exciting and special this is for us,” Bach said in an interview. “Not only us but future generations. Aside from hockey, like the opportunities that this league is going to create.” 

Bach is a member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, 250 km southwest of Ottawa. Her teammate Larocque is Métis from the small Manitoba town of Ste. Anne, southeast of Winnipeg. Both have played hockey at its highest levels. Larocque won gold with Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and Bach won gold with Canada at the 2021 World Championships. But they’ve never been able to make a career of the sport until the creation of the PWHL.

They have the added responsibility of being ambassadors of the game for young female Indigenous hockey players. As do the other two Indigenous players in the PWHL – Jamie Lee Rattray who plays for Boston and Abby Roque who is with New York. 

“The way I see it is representation matters,” Larocque said. “If there is a young Indigenous child out there who dreams of playing professional hockey, they can look to me, to Victoria Bach, to Abby Roque – all of us Indigenous players. We get to eat, sleep, play hockey. It’s everything that we’ve dreamt about, and honestly, it’s surpassed a lot of my expectations. Every day I feel grateful.”

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Joshua Janke lives in Montreal and is studying English Literature at Mcgill University. He is passionate about writing, social justice, and creating art.