Exhibit at Winnipeg Jets practice facility aims to make sure South Asian kids feel like they belong in hockey

A new bilingual exhibit in Punjabi and English in Winnipeg aims to ensure South Asian kids feel like they belong in the world of hockey, while also exploring issues of decolonization and privilege in sports.

Sikh Heritage Manitoba unveiled the We Are Hockey exhibit at the Hockey For All Centre — where the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose practise — on Wednesday, to showcase South Asian culture and inclusivity within Canada’s national sport. 

The exhibit’s primary translator, Sheena Gurm, said there were many sleepless nights learning how to translate words such as “decolonization” and “inclusion,” which are not often used in the Punjabi language. 

However, “this is a really great opportunity to promote the language, to promote the culture and … intersect both hockey culture and Punjabi culture,” Gurm said.

“That will go a long way to attract younger people to the sport, making them feel like they belong,” said Gurm, who added she didn’t know anything about ice hockey when she moved to Canada from India at age 12.

The exhibit was curated by Satwinder Kaur Bains, an associate professor who is director of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley in B.C.

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It features about 15 panels describing the history of hockey in Manitoba dating back to the 1800s, including biographies of National Hockey League players of various ethnic backgrounds.

Two hockey players in Edmonton Oilers home sweaters share a celebratory hug.
Jujhar Khaira, right, celebrates a goal for the Edmonton Oilers in 2018. Now with the Minnesota Wild organization, Khaira is one of a handful of players of Punjabi descent to play in the National Hockey League. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The exhibit tells the story of sports through a different lens than usual, and highlights the accomplishments and contributions of members from diverse communities, said Ganni Maan, a member of the Winnipeg Jets advisory council.

“A lot of people don’t know how to find their place in hockey,” but there is value in making sure the sport is accessible to all communities, he said, since all children should see themselves represented in those spaces. 

One effort to do that is Apna Hockey Winnipeg Jets First Shift, a six-week program run by Sikh Heritage Manitoba that’s dedicated to introducing South Asian and other newcomer children to hockey, said Maan. 

During its inaugural season this fall, 120 children from ages five to 10 learned basic skating skills to help alleviate any feelings of anxiety that may come with trying a new sport. 

The next learn-to-skate program will start in January at the Hockey For All Centre. 

A person carrying a hockey bag and stick walks past a sign advertising We Are Hockey.
The We Are Hockey exhibit in Winnipeg Wednesday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

David Sattler, the centre’s manager, said the exhibit will give the thousands of hockey families, players and spectators who come to the facility something to think about.

“It opens the door for conversation, which is the first step to being able to grow the game amongst different groups,” said Sattler. “At the end of the day, hockey thrives when we have a lot of participants.”

Sports can be a common thread to bring communities together to make new connections, experience new things and have a better understanding of each other’s culture, he said.

The exhibit’s panels will be spread throughout the main lobby and the second floor concourse at the centre until March, but they will be briefly moved to the Canada Life Centre for South Asian Heritage Night on Dec. 16, as the Winnipeg Jets will face off against the Colorado Avalanche. 

The Jets celebrated the team’s first South Asian Heritage Night on Feb. 11, 2023, which included South Asian cuisine, music and traditional bhangra dance and drumming.

The Canadian national anthem will also bung in Punjabi at the Dec. 16 game, said Maan. 

It’s “not lost on anyone” that initiatives like that are happening in Winnipeg, he said, despite the city having a much smaller South Asian community than places like Vancouver or Toronto. 

Closeup of bearded man in turban.
JD Devgan, the NDP MLA for McPhillips, speaks at the We Are Hockey exhibit in Winnipeg on Wednesday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The MLA for McPhillips, JD Devgan, said going to the South Asian Heritage Night and hearing the national anthem in the language he usually listens to music in will be “incredibly meaningful.” 

Sports is a key way to enrich children’s experiences, he said. 

“Manitoba is a hockey province, so if young South Asian kids can get involved in hockey, the closer they will feel to being Manitoban and the closer they will feel to other Manitobans.”

Winnipeg exhibit aims to make sure South Asian kids feel like they belong in hockey

A new bilingual exhibit in Punjabi and English in Winnipeg aims to ensure South Asian kids feel like they belong in the world of hockey, while also exploring issues of decolonization and privilege in sports.

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