An uproar in Fort McMurray over a viral video that some considered racist has led to a minor hockey team forfeiting the remainder of its season because of safety concerns.
Parents of players on the Fort McMurray Midget ‘A’ Junior Oil Barons issued a statement this week strongly criticizing the “brash actions” of the Fort McMurray Minor Hockey Association after an online video surfaced last month showing young hockey players dancing to the song Electric Pow Wow Drum by A Tribe Called Red.
“The video showed a few team members, some of them Indigenous, engaging in a motivational dance,” the parents said in their statement, issued Wednesday. “This was not intended as a derogatory or racist act.”
The parents said they are telling their side of the story after “failed attempts” to come to a resolution with the minor hockey association.
On Jan. 21, hours after the video surfaced online, the association issued a media release saying it was “devastated” by the players’s actions in their “disrespectful” video.
“It is wrong and will not be tolerated. The display of ignorance is sad and gravely unfortunate,” association president Travis Galenzoski said in the statement. “These players will know how deeply impactful their wrong actions are.”
The statement no longer appears on the association’s website or social media feeds.
Players received death threats
In their own statement, the parents said the hockey association’s actions “contributed to team members receiving death threats, threats of harm, and humiliating and degrading comments about them on social media.”
At least one team member had “police presence” after the hockey association’s statement, “in direct response to threats made against them.”
The parents said the hockey association failed to consult with anyone from the team before publicly condemning the video and the players’ actions.
“FMMHA’s media statement was released within three hours of the video surfacing,” the parents said.
“This action, coupled with the failure to contact any staff member on the video about the video, demonstrated a lack of thorough investigation to the facts of the video and breached the fiduciary duty it owes to its players in looking after their safety and best interests.”
The hockey association identified the team name, allowing people to “identify, locate and publish personal information about the players on the team, as well as their upcoming schedule for the remainder of the season,” the parents said.
Shane Kearney, the father of a player not in the video, told CBC News the video was meant “as a way to pump the boys up before the game.
“We felt like they [the association] owed the boys a public apology.”
Roxanne James, a parent whose son was also not in the video, said players had to deal with threats and criticism.
“They were ridiculed,” she said. “They were humiliated.”
CBC has sought comment from the association but has not heard back.
The video shows players, some in skates and Junior Oil Barons hockey uniforms, dancing to the tune. One player uses the lid of a garbage can as a drum, striking it with a hockey stick. Some laughter is heard in the background.
CBC has chosen not to publish the full video because the players range between the ages of 15 to 18.
‘They were ridiculed. They were humiliated’
In another statement on Jan. 23, a lawyer for the McKay Métis Association said two boys in the video are Indigenous.
Dwayne Roth said the boys were pow-wow dancing in the locker room before the game and the dance was intended to reflect their culture and motivate the team.
“Rush to judgment based on out of context video clips is becoming all too common and poses real danger to the reputation and safety of those incorrectly labelled.”
In their statement, the parents said they decided to forfeit the remainder of the season because it was “too dangerous” for the players, their families and others involved.
The team forfeited a total of six games, including two scheduled for this weekend.
The team has paid a $2,100 penalty for dropping out but has decided to take part in provincial play-downs “in hopes to end the season on a positive note.”
The parents slammed the hockey association for ignoring “one of the basic tenets of today’s inclusive and tolerant societal norms, namely, not understanding the other side and rushing to a rash, often incorrect, judgment.”
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.