On family separations and Indian residential schools

As the brutal separations of asylum-seeking families at the U.S.-Mexico border unfolded last week, my twitter feed was filled with folks writing "this is not who we are!" Quickly, these were countered by others saying, "this is exactly who we are and always have been" - and referencing, among other things, the Indian residential schools that were established in the U.S. (and in Canada) during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Designed to rob indigenous people of their culture, language, and family ties, these schools, where children were forcibly sent to live - apart from their parents - at kindergarten age or younger, were standard practice by colonialist and imperialist powers around the globe. The schools were one way to, essentially, brainwash children into accepting the dominant culture and dampen resistance to the ruling regime. Native American children (and First Nations children in Canada) were forced to have their hair cut, punished for speaking their native languages, made to practice Christianity instead of their native religions, and subjected to physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Tens of thousands died of sickness and malnutrition due to inhumane living conditions.

It should go without saying that separating families in this way has a (to say the very least) demoralizing effect on the parents whose children are taken. Robbed of your dearest, closest people, left with no one to help with daily tasks, unable to pass on treasured and life-giving traditions, what is left for you? And for the children, the loss of your childhood, your identity, and the absence of love reverberates for a lifetime. 

In my research on sports and hockey in indigenous communities I came across a number of people and communities that have been effected in this way by Indian residential schools in the United States and Canada. (I include Canada because, since Seeking the Center takes place in Canada, most of my research was focused there. However, conditions were the same in the United States.)

Michael Robidoux's book about First Nations hockey, Stickhandling through the Margins, has a chapter about the effects of the residential school system on one particular community, the Esketemc First Nation, through generations - effects including extremely high rates of alcoholism and other self-destructive behavior. Their saving grace is that they are coming together in recent years to find solutions. Robidoux describes how they are adopting (and adapting) hockey as a path toward healing.

In his documentary and book They Call Me Chief: Warriors on Ice, Don Marks writes about the fabulously talented Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first, if not the first, First Nations man to play in the National Hockey League. Sasakamoose was taken away from home at age five by force, his parents threatened with imprisonment. He told Marks, "the main thing I remember was the loneliness." At age 14 he ran away from residential school and hid. Despite his recruitment by and contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, he had been traumatized and never escaped the loneliness, the homesickness, and the sense of being different in a strange place. He cut his career short because of it.

Among examples in the U.S., I came across the great Jim Thorpe, Olympic track gold-medalist and professional football and baseball player. In an account of his life by Joseph Bruchac (Jim Thorpe: Original All-American), Thorpe says, "Running away was nothing unusual for a Carlisle student to do. Boys and girls ran away from the school all the time." Carlisle was the last of three residential schools that Thorpe attended, and he ran away from all of them. And though he documents the abusive treatment he and his fellow students experienced, the trauma of being away from home and family seemed to be the hardest thing to take.

Separating families as a way of promoting colonialist, imperialist, and racist agendas and of quelling resistance to the same is not new. We need to learn the history, and learn from the history. We must understand that this strategy as used by the current U.S. administration is not a random thing. It is part of a known pattern and strategy of such regimes and we need to call it out as such.

Addendum: Coincidentally, the New York Times ran an article about indigenous hockey players today, including information about Fred Sasakamoose, referenced above.



Update: Maria Campbell's "Halfbreed"

In March of last year I posted a few words about Maria Campbell's autobiography Halfbreed, one of the many books that inspired me when I was writing Seeking the Center.

Just a couple of weeks ago I read that a researcher has found two pages of Campbell's manuscript that were omitted when it was published in 1973. The pages describe Campbell's rape by a Canadian Mountie when she was fourteen years old (which would have been nearly twenty years earlier). It seems that her publisher decided not to include the passage for fear that the R.C.M.P. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka "Mounties") would try to halt its publication.

At the time Jack McClelland, her publisher, reasoned that, if the incident were included in her story, the Mounties would challenge it, and the onus would be on Campbell to prove it. McClelland knew that the word of an Indigenous woman would mean nothing against the word of an R.C.M.P. officer. Campbell herself had wanted the passage included regardless, and didn't know that the publisher had nixed it until she received the printed copy in the mail. 

Perhaps it is fitting that the pages, and the associated story, should come to light in the #MeToo era. For more information, you can read the CBC story here. Please note that it includes the missing pages that describe the rape.



I saw Stanley!!!

On June 7, my team, the Washington Capitals, won the Stanley Cup, the National Hockey League's championship trophy. It was the first time the team has won it in its forty-four-year history. It was a big deal. 

The Stanley Cup itself is amazing. It was originally commissioned in 1892 as the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup by Lord Stanley of Preston, then Governor-General of Canada, making it one of the oldest, if not the oldest, existing trophy to be awarded to a professional sports franchise. (Incidentally, the championship trophy of the National Women's Hockey League, the Isobel Cup, was named after Lord Stanley's daughter, who played the game herself and encouraged her father to commission the Stanley Cup. The Metropolitan Riveters won the Isobel Cup this spring.)

Another thing that makes the Stanley Cup special is that the league does not make a new one each year. Instead, the winning team keeps the trophy over the summer, and each player gets an opportunity to bring it to their hometown or another special place to share and show off with their fans, friends, and family. In addition, the names of the winning team members are engraved on the Cup, so they are forever part of its history. Adding all these names - and the silver to accommodate them - means that the trophy is quite large: about three feet high and thirty-five pounds. The Cup is legendary - the chants "We Want Stanley!" and "We Want the Cup!" are de rigueur among NHL teams. During the playoffs this  year I saw fan carrying a sign that read, "My cup size is Stanley." Uh, LOL.

The Stanley Cup is extremely difficult to win. After a grueling 82-game season, the top sixteen teams duke it out in the playoffs. The winners ultimately make their way through four best-of-seven rounds, or up to 28 additional games, in order to win the trophy. After all that hockey, most players are injured to some degree. 

When the Washington Capitals won the Cup a week ago, they carried it around the city to share it with fans - on sidewalks, in bars, on rooftops, in fountains. Yesterday the team paraded down Constitution Avenue and I was there, with, I don't know, probably 100,000 or so of my closest friends. Weather-wise, it was an uncharacteristically gorgeous day for DC in June. Here are a few photos.

 DC looked amazing! The streets were festooned with banners and flags.

DC looked amazing! The streets were festooned with banners and flags.

 Um, a lot of people showed up. Most of them were wearing jerseys or t-shirts in the Caps' color, red. Or as we say, they were "rocking the red."

Um, a lot of people showed up. Most of them were wearing jerseys or t-shirts in the Caps' color, red. Or as we say, they were "rocking the red."

 Fatima al Ali, a hockey player from the United Arab Emirates, was befriended by Caps alum & former star Peter Bondra and has come to Washington more than once as part of the Capitals' "Hockey Is for Everyone" program.

Fatima al Ali, a hockey player from the United Arab Emirates, was befriended by Caps alum & former star Peter Bondra and has come to Washington more than once as part of the Capitals' "Hockey Is for Everyone" program.

 There were Capitals dignitaries, including beloved television play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati and color commentator (and former Caps player) Craig Laughlin. These guys make every broadcast a treat!

There were Capitals dignitaries, including beloved television play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati and color commentator (and former Caps player) Craig Laughlin. These guys make every broadcast a treat!

 Philipp Grubauer, one the Capitals' goaltenders, hopped off one of the busses and ran a lap draped in the District of Columbia's flag, high-fiving fans.

Philipp Grubauer, one the Capitals' goaltenders, hopped off one of the busses and ran a lap draped in the District of Columbia's flag, high-fiving fans.

 And finally, bringing up the rear, the save-the-best-for-last bus. Seems like we waited forever - you could see the tantalizing gleam of silver when it was still blocks away.  Atop the bus: (L to R) Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik pointing at the crowd, beer in hand; center Nicklas Bäckström; and Captain & winger Alex Ovechkin holding Stanley above his head in iconic fashion. Caps owner Ted Leonsis is visible through the crook of Ovi's arm.

And finally, bringing up the rear, the save-the-best-for-last bus. Seems like we waited forever - you could see the tantalizing gleam of silver when it was still blocks away.  Atop the bus: (L to R) Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik pointing at the crowd, beer in hand; center Nicklas Bäckström; and Captain & winger Alex Ovechkin holding Stanley above his head in iconic fashion. Caps owner Ted Leonsis is visible through the crook of Ovi's arm.



D1 in DC Wrap-up

 Handshake line, Wisconsin v. Northeastern

Handshake line, Wisconsin v. Northeastern

In the Washington, DC, area, we are starved for women's hockey - which is why I gladly spent the better part of Thanksgiving weekend at Kettler Capitals Iceplex enjoying four highly entertaining, unusual NCAA Division 1 match-ups. (Unusual because eastern and western teams don't often get the opportunity to meet.)

The D1 in DC tournament, the second such event hosted by the Washington Pride of the Junior Women's Hockey League, included Northeastern and Boston Universities from the Boston area, the University of Wisconsin (Madison), and Minnesota State (Mankato). After engineering an upset of first-ranked Wisconsin on Friday and a decisive win over Minnesota State on Saturday, Northeastern came away the weekend's big winner at 2-0. Wisconsin and Boston University were each 1-1, and Minnesota State 0-2.

The UW Badgers have lost a number of seniors since I saw them play the (sadly) now-defunct University of North Dakota team last January, but their team play was impressive in both Friday's loss and Saturday's win (against Boston University).

All four teams displayed an unwavering focus and a consistency of effort, whether leading or trailing, that I often miss in the professional men's leagues. The games were hard fought and physical, but also showcased plenty of pretty stickhandling and shooting skill. A standout player in my mind was Northeastern's senior Denisa Krizova, not because of the hat-trick she scored in Saturday's game against Minnesota State, but because of her incredibly persistent and courageous hard work down low, below the goal, which I happened to be watching from above - amazing! (As it turns out, she's on the Czech Republic's national team. Look for her in the Olympics!) 

At least one reporter lamented the fact that this important east-west tournament was not available streaming. He rightly called out the NCAA and the National Hockey League Washington Capitals (Kettler is their practice facility) for overlooking or neglecting the opportunity to make these games available to a larger audience than the 950-or-so fans who were able to squeeze into the venue.

Naturally, I agree. But I would add that, other than the Olympics, the women's games I have seen broadcast, whether streaming or on television, have been disappointing. Not because of the play, but because of the rudimentary fashion in which they are filmed, which makes it difficult or impossible to appreciate the play. Hockey is a fast but nuanced game; proper resources are required to do it justice. The women's game, in particular, which relies on finesse plays rather than on booming hits, will translate particularly well from live to filmed, if done well. I suggest that, in order to help #GrowTheGame, USA Hockey, the NCAA, and the NHL pool their (copious) resources to showcase a number of women's games each season in venues with decent lighting and a reasonable number of professionally-operated cameras. 

While we're on the subject, I'm no photographer, and I forgot my camera (a.k.a. my phone) on Saturday.  :(  But here are a few shots from the weekend.


 Northeastern v. Minnesota State (photo by Michael Edson)

Northeastern v. Minnesota State (photo by Michael Edson)



 Waiting to take the ice

Waiting to take the ice

 Northeastern v. Minnesota State again (photo by Michael Edson)

Northeastern v. Minnesota State again (photo by Michael Edson)


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More thoughts about Agnes: a cost-benefit analysis of womanhood

Some of my friends and acquaintances who've read Seeking the Center have remarked that they "liked Agnes at the end" of the story -- which is interesting to me, because, does that mean they didn't like her at the beginning?

It ties in with a feeling I've had all along about Agnes, and about the way the book ends. I feel sad that, in some ways, at least, she "settles." Sometimes I worry that, maybe, she's not the girl-hero that I initially envisioned, routed for, and loved.

I think I understand what those readers mean, though. Agnes does "grow up." She becomes (visibly) less angry, more "likeable." There are positives there, surely, but there's also a loss, because that anger was not only a driving force in her psyche -- it was righteous.

As a woman -- and this may apply as well to other people who exist outside of society's dominant culture -- your anger doesn't ever get resolved. It doesn't disappear, either. You only "choose" to deal with it in different ways, ways that allow you to "grow up" and "move forward," but that also cause you to bury parts of yourself and your experience.

So, do I "like Agnes at the end" better than I did at the beginning? I don't know. I do think she is more compassionate, more emotionally intelligent. There is an upside to this change, and part of the benefit, I hope, will accrue to her. But what is the cost, not only to her as an individual person with only one life to live, but multiplied out across society? What is the cost of millions of Agneses "growing up" and "moving forward," while leaving their anger unaddressed, unanswered, unresolved?

It makes me think of the famous Langston Hughes poem. What does happen to a dream deferred?

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Announcing a book giveaway

Hello, friends! 

I’m giving away two signed copies of Seeking the Center via Goodreads giveaway in honor of the start of the National Women’s Hockey League season. Sign up to win between now and opening day (October 28). Entrants can be from the US, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden or Switzerland.

Good luck!  :)



A game that "really" matters

Writing Seeking the Center was both fun and agonizing. Some of the plot lines seemed to resolve themselves without my intervention, while others were harder to manage. The central question was the most difficult to answer: How can Agnes, excluded from her ideal of "playing for points" in "real" games because of her sex, find a way to play hockey that satisfies her?

In solving this problem I had to work within the constraints of reality. A "Disney-esque" ending, as my editor put it, wouldn't be believable. Seeking was never meant to be one of those sports stories climaxing with the protagonist's victory against all odds in the "big game." Instead, the final game becomes a pitched battle between Agnes and her own fears.

Ultimately, Agnes does find a new way to play the game she loves. And although this new hockey exists outside of the "real" game to which she once aspired, it satisfies her need to play a game of consequence - a game that "really" matters.



Unwomanly sports

 Photo from Hilary Knight's July 19 tweet announcing her Reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything")

Photo from Hilary Knight's July 19 tweet announcing her Reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything")

While idly perusing twitter a couple of days ago, I saw that professional hockey player (Boston Pride) and U.S. National Team star Hilary Knight had taken part in a Reddit AMA. Someone I follow on twitter reported that, during the session, she'd been asked why she chose hockey over figure skating.

Implicit in the question, of course, is the assumption that, rather than hockey, figure skating is the skating sport that girls and women would/should naturally pursue. You'd have to be a strange woman indeed to choose hockey over figure skating. Not only strange, but also, quite possibly, difficult, contrary, subversive - even unwomanly (!!!).

The question also brings to my mind some of that Title IX-derived "separate but equal" rubbish. (I hate to bash Title IX, which has obviously been important and beneficial, but it does have its downsides.) For example, during the fall season in high school we have football for the boys, so we need a sport for the girls. Let's say ... volleyball? That works -- the boys won't need the gym because they'll be out on the football field. Okay, volleyball it is. But here's the thing, and it's nothing against volleyball, but let's face it: playing volleyball is unlikely to satisfy a girl who really wants to play football. Likewise, playing football isn't going to satisfy the boy who really wants to play volleyball. And figure skating, my friends -- as amazingly beautiful and athletic as it is -- is unlikely to satisfy the person of any gender who really wants to play hockey.

I often get the same question that Knight got. I'll be at the rink, lacing up my hockey skates, and someone will ask, out of the clear blue sky, "why aren't you doing figure skating?" Often it's one of the very first things someone will say to me.

I always answer nicely, but honestly, people! It's 2017! Can't we move past this ridiculous stereotyping, which only serves to keep people trapped in little boxes and make them feel bad or embarrassed for who they are?

(And in case you're wondering, when they asked Hilary Knight why she chose hockey over figure skating she said, "my choice was between skiing and hockey.")



Wonder Woman: a message for these times

For the past week a certain movie has absolutely dominated my twitter feed. Many of the women (and men) that I follow are praising not only the movie’s strong female lead, but also its portrayal of compassion & love as primary sources of power. This is one of the themes of Seeking the Center

Of course I'm talking about Wonder Woman!

Well, last night I got to see for myself: My tweeps' observations were true AND Wonder Woman was very entertaining - attractive, action-packed, tight, and filled with many appealing (and appropriately unappealing) characters.

But what I like the most about it is this: Wonder Woman rejects the black-and-white thinking that you sometimes see in these ‘good versus evil’ stories. We all have the capacity for both good and evil. Our constant responsibility as humans is to try to skew towards the good. I love the way the film delivers this message, and I think it's especially important in times like these. (I also like that it's presented in a way that is appropriate for younger people - the film is rated PG-13.)

Finally I must add that in this case, although I'm usually fairly cheap (I'm a starving writer, after all!) I relished the opportunity to vote with my wallet for a movie with a strong female lead. We need many more of these!




Book signings planned

I can't wait until the summer! I've got two signings planned in the beautiful upper Midwest, the first on July 29 at The Bookstore at Fitgers in Duluth, Minnesota, and the second on August 5 at Book World in Minocqua, Wisconsin. For more information see my Events page.

Seeking the Center is now or will soon be available at both stores -  Fitgers in Duluth and Book World in Minocqua - as well as Book World in Bemidji, Minnesota. If you're nearby, stop in and and ask about it! In fact, I encourage you to inquire about Seeking in your local book shop wherever it is! Independent bookstores are normally happy to order titles for customers, and most often they do not charge for shipping.



Don't tell me what I can't do

The US Women's National Hockey Team is crushing it at Worlds, with two victories, both shut-outs, in two games played so far - the first against arch-rival Canada. Some observers had thought that their lengthy negotiations with USA Hockey, which forced them to miss most of their training camp, would impact their play, but so far it hasn't. Or maybe it's impacted their play in a positive way.  Maybe it's empowered them.

If their story has piqued your interest, I recommend that you read Mary Turco's Crashing the Net: The U.S. Women's Olympic Ice Hockey Team and the Road to Gold. It's about the US women's victory in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 - the first time women's hockey was included in the Olympics. In the tradition of Wayne Coffey's classic The Boys of Winter, about the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" in which the US Men's National Team - then made up of amateur (not NHL) players - beat the Soviets, it tells not only the team story, but also describes the individual paths and struggles of the players. As such, it makes concrete the obstacles that girls and women of that generation faced as they tried to pursue careers in the sport.

I had a hard time reading Crashing the Net, because for so much of it there were tears in my eyes - tears of pride, gratitude, sadness, joy - as well as tears of anger and defiance. All of these women had to overcome powerful voices telling them that they could not play. Not all were as overt as those who screamed at goalie Erin Whitten to "go back to the kitchen" and hurled tampons at her as she played, but as we all know, the more insidious voices - the ones most difficult to identify - are the ones most difficult to take down.

The voices telling us that we are inferior, that our play is boring and slow, that we can't be trusted to make decisions about our bodies or about what risks we're willing to take on or off the ice - those voices are still prominent and loud in 2017. But this I hope is true: girls now dare to set their expectations higher and broader than they ever did before. We dare to hope for more, work for more, and claim more for our own. Letting our own voices speak out and letting them define our ambitions and actions is the first and most important step in silencing those outside voices that tell us we can't. I didn't have this knowledge, this ability, this freedom, when I was growing up. But for the joy of knowing that so many girls now do, I thank women such as those of the US Women's National Hockey Team, past and present.



A few belated words about Owen

I’ve written about Claude here and here, and about Agnes here. But I've yet to write anything at all about the third angle of Seeking the Center's primary love triangle. So here goes.

Owen MacKenzie was actually the first character that I envisioned when I started considering a story about hockey. He's just an earnest, striving, and relatively simple dude - which is, admittedly, a bit of a hockey stereotype, albeit one worth thinking about in more detail.

Owen's hockey career is thrust upon him at some point during high school when, seemingly overnight, he grows by about a foot, making him suddenly viable as a serious player. But the only reason that he had even an ounce of viability in the first place - which, to his credit, he realizes - is Agnes, with whom he has shared a respect for the game - and an engrossing rivalry in it - since they were little kids.

As Owen leaves the relatively protected zone of childhood, he encounters a new kind of hockey - hockey as an industry that commoditizes and at times dehumanizes its workers. He also encounters racism and sexism, not for the first time, but in particularly virulent, concentrated forms that adversely affect him and his relationships with other people. They aren’t aimed directly at him, of course, because he's a white male, but he both witnesses them and becomes complicit in them, whether more or less knowingly.

In developing Owen, I wanted to show his privilege and the contradictions that it reveals. I wanted to show the downsides of his (largely enviable) position. And I wanted to show the depth of his loyalty to Agnes - even when she baffles or angers him, he isn't able to disengage. Is it love, or is it some even more primal reflex? He's like a dog hanging onto a stick, his jaw locked, his teeth digging into the soft wood as you try to wrest it free. And the longer he hangs on, the less inclined he is to let go, because - well, just because.

Underneath Owen's easygoing, affable nature is a fair amount of anger and frustration that, thanks to his life-long position of (relative) privilege, is only now beginning to surface. He's forced to acknowledge it, to puzzle out where it comes from, and to address it. If he can combine these efforts with his authentically kind instincts, will it be enough to meet Agnes halfway? And if it is, will halfway be enough?

If you want to find out, you'll have to read the book.



The women will play: US National Women's Team & USA Hockey reach an agreement

Good morning! Over a week has passed since I wrote about the National Women's Hockey Team and its boycott of the upcoming World Championships. I'm now happy to report that the women will play. Yay!

Although USA Hockey attempted to buy itself time (or avoid the issue altogether) by trying to enlist replacement players for the tournament, almost every player it contacted stood up in support of the National Team by publicizing her refusal to take USA Hockey up on its offer of a roster spot for Worlds. (See #BeBoldForChange.) And USA Hockey showed its desperation by contacting not only professional and college players, but also rec league and high school players. Reportedly, barely a handful showed any interest. As club college player Lauren Allen said to the New York Times, "We weren't going to go behind the backs of our sisters, because we believe we need equality...It's a movement, women's hockey history, and of course I support them."

In addition, there were indications that the Men's National Team might boycott its World Championship tournament (scheduled for May) in support of the women, and there were clear messages of support from the player's associations of the MLB, the NBA, the NHL, and the NFL; from individual athletes and coaches around the world; and from twenty U.S. Senators who called on USA Hockey to obey the Ted Stevens Act, which requires that it provide girls and women with support and opportunities equal to those provided to male players. 

So, kicking and screaming, USA Hockey has been dragged into the 21st century. Here's the gist of the agreement, via a tweet from devoted women's hockey reporter Hannah Bevis


With that settled, we can look forward to Friday and the start of the tournament. Unfortunately, the games are generally not covered by major networks (the NHL channel may broadcast some of them): that's a fight for another day. But, to keep ourselves abreast of the action, we are fortunate to have two relatively new websites devoted to coverage of women's hockey, whether it be NCAA, professional, or national. They are The Victory Press and The Ice Garden. Please support them!

Incidentally, if you need another reason to be outraged by the way USA Hockey has tried to belittle our sisters' successes, read this.  




The real-life hockey heroes of the U.S. National Women's Team

It's an eventful time for women's hockey. Both of the North American professional women's leagues have had their championships, as has the NCAA. And in culmination, the Women's World Championships will begin at the end of this month in Plymouth, Michigan. But, although the event is hosted by USA Hockey, the U.S. National Women's Team may sit this one out. 


Not because the team is inferior, that's for sure. According to ESPN, it's been the jewel of the U.S. Olympic program. Ranked number one in the world, the team has won seven world championships, including the last three, and have medalled at every Olympic games since the women's game was first included in 1998, when they won gold.

Rather, they are essentially striking for better pay and for the respect which is long overdue. They'd rather play than sit on the sidelines, of course, but as two-time Olympic silver-medalist, six-time World Champion gold medalist Hilary Knight says, "[the decision not to play] just came about because USA Hockey didn't take our group seriously...we train every single day to represent our country with already limited programming in terms of games. It's something that we look forward to. It's a huge deal. To have to sacrifice that means a lot."

Why do they feel they need to make this sacrifice? Because for fourteen months, the women of the U.S. National Team have tried to negotiate with USA Hockey's leadership for fair wages and a commitment to supporting girls' and women's programs in the sport, but have nothing to show for it.

Being on the Women's National Team is a financial hardship. Members of the senior women's team receive $1000 per month for six months leading up to the Olympic games - for a grand total of $6000 every fourth year. During the other 3 1/2 years they receive nothing.  Many of them remain on their parents' insurance and cellphone plans, and most work second or third jobs, all while training year-round for Olympic and World Championship participation and coping with constant financial insecurity and stress.  

Men's National Team players play in the NHL, earning multi-million-dollar salaries, enjoying insurance and medical care provided by the league and teams, and, during the Olympics, perks such as luxury travel and lodging negotiated by the NHL. The women aren't asking for financial rewards even approaching these.

"We're not asking for millions of dollars. We're not even asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars," says Monique Lamoureux-Morando, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and five-time World Championship gold-medalist, "I work as a strength and conditioning coach, and then I also run hockey I have second and third sources of income that I rely on as well. To be able to train full time and not have to worry about paying bills would certainly be nice."

But even more disturbing than the lack of financial compensation for the women, is the lack of respect for girls and women by USA Hockey in every facet of their operation. Here's a partial list of the slights that have been circulating in the media since the women's team announced their strike:

  • For the Olympic jersey unveil in 2014, the Men's National Team was invited, but none of the women were. And while gold medals previously won by U.S. National Teams were listed inside the collars of the jerseys, the women's gold medal win in 1998 was omitted.
  • The Women's Under-18 team has won five World Championships since they started competing in 2008, but they have never received a Championship ring, even though the U18 boys "get rings...a couple of months after they win," says Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, who, like her sister Monique, is a two-time Olympic silver medalist and five-time World Championship gold-medalist. "If the senior women's team gets a ring - if we do - it's a couple years late. It just goes to show, oh sorry, we forgot about you, here's your ring from two years ago."
  • To no avail, the women have repeatedly requested that USA Hockey schedule them to play more than the current nine games per year in Olympic years. Meanwhile, the teenage boys' national development teams play at least 60 games per year and often train in residence in the posh new training center in Plymouth, MI.
  • The women consistently endure travel and lodging accommodations that are inferior to the men's and boy's. They remember waking up with spider bites during a residential training camp in Blaine, MN. Players who lived in the area actually brought their own bedding in an attempt at self-defense!
  •  Teammates have watched as their goaltenders were forced to wear their (unmatching) college gear for tournaments, while the boys U18 goalies were kitted out with entirely new equipment for their events.
  • And the final blow: USA Hockey currently spends $3.5 million annually on their development program for boys. They do not have a comparable program for girls.

USA Hockey has refused to promote the women's team, and refused to promote the sport among girls. Unlike the federations that control women's gymnastics, soccer, and figure-skating, over the years USA Hockey has actively discouraged victory tours by the women's team after successful tournaments. (Read U.S. women's soccer pioneer Julie Foudy's thoughts on this here. "There are a number of times we travel to different areas and people don't even know that the U.S. National Team, the U.S. Women's Olympic Team, is there, because nothing was made of it," says Knight.

The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act requires sports' governing bodies - in this case, USA Hockey - to "provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women where separate programs for male and female athletes are conducted on a national basis," as is the case in hockey. USA Hockey has clearly failed in this regard.

The women of the US National Team have finally said, enough is enough. They're going on strike. Not just for themselves, but for the younger women and girls who love the game and want to play - or who might want to, if they only knew it was an option for them. As team captain and two-time Olympic silver medalist, six-time World Championship gold-medalist Meghan Duggan says, "all of us consider it a privilege to put on a Team USA jersey. None of us wanted this day to come but we feel that we owe it to women players who came first in our sport, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to women in future generations."

The final final blow, in my opinion, is that USA Hockey, when faced with the players' de-facto strike, actually threatened to field a different team for the upcoming World Championship tournament. The players essentially dared them to do it, asserting that the women's and girls' programs were united down to the lower levels, and that none of them would play, even if asked. Captain Meghan Duggan reportedly made around 100 phone calls to women around the country to thank them for their support. "Everyone knows this is the right thing to do," said Duggan.

Information for this post came from:

U.S. Women's Hockey Team Plans to Boycott World Championship Over Pay Dispute

Women's Boycott Highlights Opportunity for Major Change at USA Hockey

U.S. Women's Hockey Team Willing to Risk Everything for Respect  

U.S. Women's Hockey Team Threatens to Sit Out World Championships  

U.S Women's Hockey Team Threatens to Boycott World Championship  

It's Time for USA Hockey to Wake Up and Support the Women's Team (by Julie Foudy)

Update: Yesterday the Women's National Team and their lawyers had a lengthy meeting with USA Hockey. There is hope that they will reach an agreement and that the team will play in the World Championships, scheduled to begin on March 31. See U.S. Women's Hockey Team Sees 'A Lot of Progress' Toward a Deal, via the New York Times.  




Agnes, Maria Campbell, and the light inside

Who is Agnes, protagonist of Seeking the Center? Where did she come from? The short answer is, I don't know. 

She's not autobiographical. I have never been as tough, as brave, or as smart-assed as she is. (I only wish I was!)

I've mentioned that she began, partly, as a question about being female in the overwhelmingly male world of ice hockey. And that's certainly true.

Ultimately, though, a lot of things entered into the mix that became Agnes's character. And while I will never uncover all of them, I can say that one major inspiration is the life of Maria Campbell, a Métis woman who persevered through extreme difficulties to become a writer, a teacher, a much-respected elder, and an advocate for Métis and women's rights.

 I found Campbell's  Halfbreed  by chance, browsing the stacks at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, and I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to whomever it was that sold their used copy to Powell's! The autobiography is riveting and a must-read for  everyone .

I found Campbell's Halfbreed by chance, browsing the stacks at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, and I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to whomever it was that sold their used copy to Powell's! The autobiography is riveting and a must-read for everyone.

Campbell was born in 1940 in Park Valley, SK, a poor Road Allowance community. (Unlike other Aboriginal groups, the Métis were not granted rights to land under treaties with the Canadian government, so many were forced to squat on "road allowances" - Crown lands set aside for future roadways.) At age 33 she wrote Halfbreed, an autobiography documenting her life up until that time. In Halfbreed, Campbell never shies away from the poverty, alcoholism, violence, addiction, racism, and sexism that she faced, but she nevertheless manages to portray some of the beauty of her Métis culture and the love that existed within her family, troubled though it may have been.

While devastating at times, Halfbreed remains a testament to the dignity and spirit that people can possess, nurture, and share in defiance of even the direst circumstances and the most heartless enemies. Campbell has this light within herself, and she also has the ability to find it, and to inspire it, in others. In spite of people who fail her, and circumstances that drag her down, she retains the ability to love and to trust others, and to parlay that love into something that can sustain and nourish.

Agnes doesn't experience the hardship and desperation that Campbell did, but she has the same light inside her. And in Seeking the Center, she learns to find it and use it, for her own good and for the good of others.



Some notes on ‘Chief’ as a (hockey) nickname

In Seeking the Center, there’s a scene where Claude is referred to as “Chief” by an opponent:

Good thing you got ol' Chief there to look out for you, eh MacKenzie?

It's not meant as a compliment, either for MacKenzie, who, it is implied, is not man enough to stand up for himself, or for Claude, whom the opponent tries to belittle by referring to him by the racial stereotype “Chief.”

Hockey nicknames are known for their unimaginative-ness, and while researching Seeking, I quickly learned that “Chief” is, or was at one time, the go-to for First Nations/Native American/Métis players of hockey - and other sports as well. According to Don Marks, author of They Call Me Chief: Warriors on Ice, “almost every Indian who played in the NHL or anywhere else has been called ‘Chief' at one time or another.”

Jim Neilson, who played in the NHL in the 1960s and 1970s, told Marks,

I’ve been called Chief all my life, everywhere else I go. In hockey, you know that your teammates were calling you Chief in a friendly, natural sort of way. But then you would play guys from other teams and you knew it wasn’t so friendly. Most of it was just during the heat of the battle and they were trying to throw you off your game and you just ignore it.

Stan Jonathan, Mohawk/Tuscarora NHL forward from 1976-1983, said, also to Don Marks,

They called me Little Chief and I didn’t mind that. It was when they called me ‘wahoo’ or ‘F#$%’n little Indian’ that I didn’t like [it]...

Judging from Neilson’s and Jonathan’s comments, the context of the name-calling could influence players' feelings about it. But also, as Jonathan indicates, the term “Chief,” while intended to isolate, belittle, and ridicule a person on the basis of race, might have been different, in some sense, than other slurs.

Year in Nam is Leroy TeCube's memoir of the year he served as a G.I. in Vietnam. (I also wrote about it in an earlier post.) Like Jim Neilson and Stan Jonathan, TeCube, a Jicarilla Apache man, was given the nickname “Chief” by his "teammates," i.e. the soldiers in his platoon.

When I joined the platoon it consisted mostly of white GIs, followed by blacks and Hispanics. I was the only American Indian. Someone asked, ‘What race are you? You look like an Indian.'

TeCube describes how he discussed his tribal affiliation with the guys, until finally one of them says, “In that case we’ll call you ‘Chief.’” TeCube answers him, “In my traditional way the title of chief is earned and shown respect.” He then recalls: 

Most of the guys would call me Chief from then on, although a handful of individuals called me by my real name. Up until that moment throughout my training no one even suggested calling me Chief. I wondered why that was so. Perhaps because as trainees we were used to being treated as animals and were addressed by our last names. Now here in Vietnam everyone had an identity. 

Regardless of how the name was intended, TeCube chooses how he will take it - he re-appropriates it - and throughout his service in Vietnam he works hard to live up to the name “chief” and what it means to him and his traditional beliefs. He writes:

I also thought of my new responsibility from my Jicarilla Apache way...the short translation of Nahn Tahn is leader. A more indepth translation, however, describes it as someone who is also an orator. He tells his people what happened in battle or what is about to happen to them next...being Nahn Tahn was something to be feared. Only the very strong took on the responsibility. One had to set a good example and ensure that the needs of everyone in his group were met before he thought of himself. He must never be corrupted or gain wealth from his position. The main criteria were that he never retreat in battle and he show a lot of courage. He had to be the first one into a conflict, and if need be, he would fight single-handedly with an enemy leader…

Towards the end of his time in Vietnam, TeCube recalls “meeting a fellow soldier who was we talked I realized he was also a leader within his platoon and was also called Chief. This gave me a good feeling, knowing that another individual lived up to the name.”

Finally, TeCube is awarded sergeant’s stripes. He writes: 

That day I felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment. I never expected to be a sergeant when I entered the army. Now I had orders in my hand stating just that. I also knew that I had earned the rank….It took a little time before I got used to being called sergeant or sarge. Some called me Sergeant TeCube. Most of the time I still went by Chief or Sergeant Chief. This had more meaning. According to my traditional beliefs, I had now earned the right to be called Chief.

TeCube - along with all of his platoon-mates - quickly recognizes the futility of the Vietnam War, but, having no choice in the matter, he takes it as an obstacle to overcome, just as he takes the moniker given to him, "Chief," as a personal challenge. And while I didn't know about TeCube and hadn't read his story when I was writing Seeking, I like the way that, without knowing it, the player who calls Claude "Chief" unwittingly points to certain facets of Claude's character and aspirations, facets that don't come to light until later in the story. Claude feels that he has little choice but to play what he thinks of as "this white man's game," and while, like TeCube, he is certainly aware of racism and the obstacles it places in his path, he soldiers on, keeping his identity, self-respect, and dignity intact.



Guys playing sports: an early passage from Seeking the Center

I wrote this little piece several years ago, when I was just starting to work on Seeking the Center. It's about young guys playing sports.

By the end of the lazy summer I'm glad to get back to town. To the cool of the rink, the smells of moldering, wet wool and sharp sweat, the sling-shot jocks, the jostling of us guys packed together in our stalls, buzzing and slamming like too many molecules, loud with joking and laughing and trash-talking. Where else would we go? What other place is left for us? The big, slick ice, the dark tunnel, the dank, crowded dressing room: they’ve made those places for us.
Outside, they’ve taken down the goals. Like a fish out of water, my form seems unsuited, my strength, outsize. It’s like when I was a kid and my mamma would say, what am I ever going to do with you? I was too fast, too heavy, too hard, too strong, too loud, too coarse, and too excitable to have in the house. It couldn’t hold me. I didn’t stop when she said stop. My words grated on the ears; my shirttail fluttered. Not fit for civilized society. That’s what she’d say. She was only joking, but I think it might be true.
I’ve heard that in the old days, they set the goals a town apart, fields apart, forests apart. That would’ve suited me great. Back then the earth was our playing field. One goal was just over the hill, far side of the schoolhouse; the other, across the stream and through the muskeg. We’d run through the brush, our feet on fire, our battles real.
But somehow it got too small for us out there, and so they’ve put us inside. Kind of funny, eh? Maybe it’s for the best; maybe it’s for our own good. Now we’re a show, a museum piece, and people pay to see us. They don’t have to have us in the house, or in town, or terrorizing the schoolmarms, or trampling the fields or trudging through the muskeg, getting mud on our shoes. Now we’re contained. It’s cleaner this way.