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Cree broadcast of Habs game is historic moment for hockey

The Canadiens’ playoff run is secondary, for a moment, to the Indigenous presentation.

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NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Despite an overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday, the Montreal Canadiens emerged with three points out of a possible four this past weekend, and remain in the final playoff spot available in the Eastern Conference.

I could write one of any number of takeaways from last night’s game, like Jonathan Drouin still not being engaged enough (maybe we aren’t being hard enough on him). Or Carey Price standing on his head, again. But, the game feels secondary when you realize that something much more significant was taking place as the Canadiens fought for their playoff lives.

The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network broadcasted the first ever National Hockey League game in Plains Cree on their network, in conjunction with Sportsnet.

While ratings have yet to be revealed, the broadcast seemed to be very well received judging by social media:

Clarence Iron, who semi-retired from calling hockey games nearly 20 years ago, called the game for APTN without an analyst by his side. Former Montreal Canadiens player John Chabot and host Earl Wood worked in the studio.

I don’t have any knowledge of the language of Plains Cree, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked by the in-game broadcast and I was still able to understand what was going on. I can only imagine what it must have felt like for those who speak the language to watch the game.

Indigenous communities are doing their best to keep their languages and dialects alive, and that was perhaps the biggest benefit from the broadcast. “The fact that we’re speaking one of our languages and we’re trying to re-introduce our languages into a lot of communities ... that our elders speak but our young don’t,” Chabot explained on a recent episode of The Scrum Podcast. “It will give us that opportunity to present that this is cool.”

A marquee game between the Canadiens and Hurricanes, as both teams fight for a playoff spot, is an amazing place for people to put the language and ultimately the First Nations culture of Cree on display. When you consider that Indigenous people in Canada have been made to feel foreign — and ostracized — from their own land, seeing people enjoy the broadcast and their culture should be taken as a positive.

Hockey is supposed to be a sport for everyone. It’s a mantra the National Hockey League has tried to adopt to be as inclusive as possible, whether they mean race, sexual orientation, nationality, or ethnicity. Sunday’s game accomplished the feat and ended up being a real treat for all types of hockey fans.