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Alberta Fort McMurray minor hockey team cancels season after death threats prompted by video of players performing Indigenous dance

Greg Halinda/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Parents of a Fort McMurray, Alta., minor hockey team have cancelled the team’s season to protect their kids from death threats made after a video on social media showed them performing a powwow dance in their dressing room, an act dubbed “sad and gravely unfortunate” by the local hockey association.

The Midget "A" Junior Oil Barons will skip their remaining six regular-season games and be fined $2,100 after the team was identified and disparaged in a tersely worded statement by the Fort McMurray Minor Hockey Association (FMMHA) issued three hours after the video appeared. The video, shot Jan. 20, went from Snapchat to Facebook and sparked an angry backlash against the 15- to 17-year-old players.

The three players shown dancing were quick to apologize online. Since then, emotions have been running hot. The school that several players attend has requested an increased police presence. Another player has carried a baseball bat with him in his car in fear for his safety. The local RCMP said it would escort the team to and from its remaining games but the Junior Oil Barons declined because no one was sure the players could be protected inside the arena.

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“We couldn’t guarantee the safety [from] people in the stands or the players on the ice from the other team,” parent Shane Kearney said on Friday. “Some of the threats made, it absolutely baffles you about mankind. To say, ‘We hope that the next semi that collides with a bus is your guys’ team’ [a reference to the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy] – who in their right mind says that to 15-, 16-, 17-year olds? Where in society is that acceptable?”

The parents have said the dance to Electric Pow Wow Drum by Indigenous electronic music group A Tribe Called Red was not meant to be disrespectful or racist. In fact, two of the teens dancing to it are Indigenous. The FMMHA dispatched a statement saying it was “wrong and will not be tolerated. … These players will know how deeply impactful their actions are.” Members of the association executive met with the parents on the evening of Jan. 21 where they were told that by naming the team they had exposed the players to targeted attacks.

The parents, in their own news release, said the association’s lack of investigation, and overreaction, had “contributed to team members receiving death threats, threats of harm, and humiliating and degrading comments about them on social media." The FMMHA statement has been removed from its website and its other social-media links.

Asked if she thought the closeness of the Fort McMurray hockey community meant the association would be more understanding and would have investigated before denouncing the players, parent Roxanne James replied: “That was our hope. That’s why we reached out. We just want some resolution for our children.”

Ms. James and Mr. Kearney said the team and its players are seeking an apology from the FMMHA. The Globe and Mail left a message with league president Travis Galenzoski but it was not returned by Friday’s deadline.

“[The FMMHA and its directors seem to] have taken a vow of silence. We have not talked to them since our initial meeting on Jan. 21,” said Mr. Kearney, who added that the parents have also tried to contact the association via their lawyer. “I don’t think any of us know what the next step is. We hope they do the right thing and we don’t have to go any further. If they don’t, at a point we have to go to a higher avenue, whether that’s with Hockey Alberta or Hockey Canada, and put in a formal complaint.”

The past few months have been emotionally charged on the Fort McMurray minor-hockey front. In December, a 31-year-old volunteer coach was arrested by Buffalo Wood RCMP and charged with luring a child, sexual assault and sexual exploitation. The charges against Steven Charles Adams are alleged to have occurred in 2018.

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