Why Ethan Bear's stand against racism matters so much to Indigenous hockey players


Trevor Iserhoff was 18 the day he hit the ice for a warm-up with his teammates and bumped into one of them.

The response was immediate.

His teammate turned to him and called him a “F***ing Indian.”

Iserhoff’s temper flared, and he lashed out with his stick, breaking his teammates wrist.

It’s a story that the former player from Moose Cree First Nation, now a proud hockey dad and host of the Rez Hockey Podcast, tells as a cautionary tale of reacting badly, of burying your anger until one day, you can’t any longer.

But it’s also an example of the decades of abuse many Indigenous players have taken, and that many have just had to bottle up.

Iserhoff used to go home and talk to his dad about the taunts he endured, but spoke of it to few other people for fear of being labelled a troublemaker or not a team player, he says.

Two decades later, he still recalls that he was reprimanded after the incident.

His teammate was not.

But he wonders if it wouldn’t be different now — thanks to high profile players such as Ethan Bear and the ubiquity of social media forcing the racism that Indigenous players face out into the open.

The young Edmonton Oiler’s player made a video calling out the abuse he faced after his team was forced out of the playoffs that quickly drew support from hockey officials and Indigenous leaders alike.

Iserhoff says he felt anger that a rising star couldn’t get beyond racist taunts, but chose to focus on the hope instead.

Instead, Iserhoff is focusing on the hope that decades of abuse aimed at Indigenous players being pushed into the open by an NHL star means that players today will be able to talk about what happens to them — and that they won’t be ignored.

“He’s making a stand, and I’m sure he would have been nervous, because I can’t even think of being able to talk the way he did and just stand up for First Nations people,” says Iserhoff, who now lives in Kenora, Ont.

“I give him all the credit in the world …. I really look up to him for being a voice for all First Nations people,” he says, before pausing. “Just not First Nations people, but everyone.”

Bear, 23, hails from Ochapowace Nation in Saskatchewan and made his NHL debut with the Oilers in 2018.

He quickly gained recognition for his enthusiasm on the ice and the way he seems to genuinely embrace being a role model for younger hockey players and Indigenous youth; his fans speak of a smiling player who often lingers after public events and makes time for real conversations with those who approach him.