June 3, 2023

Great Indian Mutiny

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Zack Whitecloud forgives ESPN anchor for insensitive joke: ‘I bear my grandfather’s name’

EDMONTON — Zack Whitecloud, Vegas Golden Knights fullback and first Native American player in the NHL from the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, said Tuesday that he has forgiven the ESPN anchor for a “patently insensitive” joke about his last name.

Jon Anderson asked Monday night what “what name” White Cloud was, calling it “a great name if you’re toilet paper.”

Speaking to the media in a Rogers Place arcade, Whitecloud replied, “I’m proud of my culture. I’m proud of where I come from, where I grew up, and who I grew up with. I bear my grandfather’s last name, and nothing makes me more proud than to be able to do that.”

Whitecloud, 26, undesigned and from a reservation community of about 1,000 people in Manitoba, has spoken in the past about his heritage, his family and the issues facing Aboriginal people and First Nations hockey players.

His grandfather — who bears his name — was a survivor of the Canadian Residential School Program for First Nations people, Whitecloud said in a 2022 Instagram post, as were his grandmother and uncle. Peter Whitecloud was president of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation from 1968 to 1970 and longtime advisor, According to the SVDN website. He served in World War II.

A 4,000-page Canadian government report in 2021 detailed maltreatment in schools, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children, and at least 4,100 deaths. Canada had over 130 boarding schools, mainly run by churches with the last closing in 1996. For decades, most Aboriginal children in Canada were taken from their families and forced to attend schools. Not many of them returned.

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The commission was initially set up in response to the discovery of a mass grave on the former grounds of a British Columbia school containing the remains of 215 children.

Whitecloud wrote in part Posted in June 2021 on Instagram. “We need to accept the inconvenient truth that schools are an important part of our past and we need to acknowledge that they have caused great trauma to thousands of Indigenous families. Many people think that these programs and unfair treatment towards Indigenous people is ancient history, but that is not it. This is the case. These are the problems that exist here and now and still exist today.”


Anderson on Tuesday issued an apology: “This is totally on me and I sincerely apologize to Zach, the Golden Knights, their fans and everyone else for what I said. My job is to be prepared and I know the players’ backgrounds and I blew that. sic) too.”

An ESPN spokesperson was asked if there was any greater response to the remarks indicated the athlete Anderson’s statement.

Whitecloud said he made first contact with Anderson from the square. “In our culture, we were raised to be the first to reach out and offer our help. That’s why I reached out to John this morning and wanted to make sure he understood that I understood that people make mistakes,” Whitecloud said. “And he admits it. He’s trying to move in the right direction and be better than he is.”

On Tuesday afternoon, brought up from where he spoke Monday night after scoring in Vegas’ 5-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers, Whitecloud acknowledged the difficulty of the conversation and the greater purpose he felt it was serving.

“Obviously, I don’t want to be in front of all (reporters), talking about this. But with that comes an opportunity to allow not only John and I, but everyone to learn from this incident. To move forward and make sure these things don’t happen again. And I just want to be clear. This point too – John understands this.

“I think he was sincere in his apology and I just wanted to reiterate to him that I’ll be the first person to reach out and offer help. Because people make mistakes, right? And it’s just a time for everyone to learn[and]move on.”

Then, with tears in his eyes and the sound in his voice, Whitecloud apologized and went back to the dressing room.

In a statement provided to the athleteSioux Valley Dakota Nation said they “appreciated” Anderson’s “quick acknowledgment of the matter and subsequent apology” and gave “steadfast support” to Whitecloud, calling him “a source of great pride for our community, embracing his cultural heritage, upbringing, and legacy of his grandfather’s family name.”

“We commend Zach for his strength in carrying our cultural traditions with him and for being the first to address this situation,” the statement read. “It is critical to understand that derogatory remarks or jokes about Indigenous names or identities perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to the marginalization of Indigenous peoples. While we appreciate John Anderson and ESPN’s apology, it is imperative that we use this incident as an opportunity for education and growth.

We hope this incident serves as a learning lesson for all involved and encourages a deeper understanding of cultural sensitivity and respect. Media organizations need to recognize the impact of their words and actions and take steps to promote inclusivity and respect for all cultures.”

(Photo by Zach Whitecloud: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)