After receiving racist messages and comments on social media following Edmonton's series-ending loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear is speaking out against the racial abuse he's been subjected to.
"I'm here to stand up to this behaviour, to these comments," Bear said in a video statement released by the Oilers on Wednesday. "I'm proud of where I come from. I'm proud to be from Ochapowace First Nation. And I'm not just doing this for myself — I'm doing this for all people of colour. I'm doing this for the next generation, to help make change, to love one another, to support one another, to be kind to each other.
"There's no place for racism in our communities, in sports, or in our workplace. So I call on all of us to help make change, and to end racism. We all deserve to be treated fairly. At the end of the day, I think we'll get there."
News of the comments directed at Bear came to light on Tuesday, when Bear's partner Lenasia Ned posted on social media to call for an end to the messages. The 23-year-old defenceman, whose path from Ochapowace First Nation in southern Saskatchewan took him through the 2015 NHL Draft and a couple stints with AHL Bakersfield before earning an every-day role with the big club, is in his third season with the Oilers.
"He is human," Ned wrote in her post about the comments Bear received following Edmonton's Game 4 loss. "We understand there is criticism, but there is no room for racism."
Joining Bear for Wednesday's video statement, Ned echoed his call for progress, too.
"I'm wanting to make a positive change in our community," she said, "and create a voice for Indigenous youth to stand up to these sort of stereotypes and remarks towards our people."
We stand with Ethan Bear against racism and encourage fans and participants from coast to coast to coast to celebrate the diversity that makes our game truly Canadian. https://t.co/qi0rZ9L1vG
— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) May 27, 2021
The Oilers released a statement on Wednesday condemning the racist abuse directed at their young defenceman as well.
"The Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club is equally disappointed in these disgusting, cowardly and racist remarks," the team's statement read. "While we have witnessed progress in the area of equality and inclusion, this reprehensible behaviour demonstrates we still have significant work to do."
The #Oilers are disappointed in these disgusting, cowardly & racist remarks.
While we have witnessed progress in the area of equality & inclusion, this reprehensible behaviour demonstrates we still have significant work to do.https://t.co/QJN6Zi2X8d
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) May 26, 2021
"Ethan Bear is an incredibly skilled hockey player and a beloved teammate," the statement continued. "His community-minded efforts both here in Edmonton and in Saskatchewan represent the qualities any organization could possibly ask of its members. These comments also fly in the face of the work the organization has done to embrace reconciliation and build a strong and positive relationship with our Indigenous community.
"We call upon everyone in Oil Country to stand up to racism, call out hatred and do their part in making our community one of acceptance, inclusion and respect."
Team captain Connor McDavid released a statement in support of his fellow Oiler as well, on behalf of the players:
Asked about the situation at his end-of-season press conference, Oilers GM Ken Holland similarly condemned the behaviour.
"I feel sick for him," Holland said of Bear. "I feel disappointed for him that he would he would get this kind of abuse. I think we've made strides, but there's a long way to go to create a world where we're where everybody feels safe and they don't get this kind of racism and abuse."
Both Bear and Ned thanked all those who have sent words of support in the wake of the original messages, but made clear that more can be done to eradicate racism from the game.
"We are really overwhelmed with all the love and support and kind words we are receiving," Ned said. "But it's time to make a change. It's time to educate ourselves on these matters, and stand up to racism."