Q&A: Brigette Lacquette on ‘diversity, inclusion and equality’ in hockey

Brigette Lacquette and Jordan Nolan look at the relationship of hockey to Indigenous peoples, and how it was a refuge from the residential school system. Voiced by: Brigette Lacquette & Jordan Nolan Music by: Aasiva – Namu

Brigette Lacquette is a modern-day hockey renaissance woman. She seamlessly slips back and forth from NHL scout, to Team Canada hockey player, to grassroots ambassador for the sport. What makes the duelling roles so remarkable is that there was no blueprint for what she’s managing to juggle.

Brigette is the first Indigenous woman to play for the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team and has recently become the first Indigenous woman to scout for an NHL team, when the Chicago Blackhawks brought her on board. Now, corporate sponsors have started to take notice of her influence in the game. Kruger Big Assist has partnered with her based off of the strength of her previous work in minor hockey. The partnership entails a commitment of $400,000 to minor hockey associations in Canada and an exclusive $50,000 grant program to help change the narrative around who belongs in the sport.

Although she’s working to provide resources to extend the type of hockey opportunities others lovingly helpws fund when she was a kid, the financial support for her as an adult female hockey player has been far less certain.

There is belief a sustainable women’s professional hockey league isn’t just inevitable but getting close. I spoke to Lacquette about that prospect and how she’s filled the void by staying involved in all levels of the game in the interim.

Brigette Lacquette gets ready to shoot on net during the Women’s Ice Hockey Preliminary Round – Group A game Canada against Russia at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. (Vincent Ethier/CP/HO-COC)

Sportsnet: Your name is already synonymous with the increased diversity in hockey but what compelled you to lend your name and time to that cause in a different way?

Brigette Lacquette: I do a lot of work for the youth across Canada and I’m very passionate about diversity and inclusion, equality. And I know what it’s like. Obviously, I’m First Nation and I’m from a small, isolated community, so Kruger is committed to supporting minor hockey in Canada and just help families with hockey registration fees. And I know how far that goes because my parents didn’t have a lot of money growing up and my reserve actually helped offset the cost for that.

So, yeah, I guess it goes a long way. And it gives Canadians an equal opportunity to play hockey and feel part of the hockey community.

Historically, hockey is pretty much a white sport, right? So, showing them that you don’t have to be just a white male to play hockey. Hockey is for everyone. So that’s what’s important with having diversity and equality and inclusion in the community.

It’s not a unique story to yourself. Often, reserves are pooling money from the community to help young kids play hockey. Some kids will have sponsors on the back of the jersey, and young Indigenous kids will have names of the First Nation community and members from the reserve that help them play. Were you cognizant of that as a kid, that lots of people on the reserve were helping you live out your sporting dreams?

For sure. I think that’s why I’m so keen on giving back to the communities — because it obviously wasn’t just my parents and my uncles and aunts and stuff like that. It was an entire community effort, especially getting to the stage that I’m at now. And my First Nation I know has helped me so much in regards to funding or schooling or anything like that.

So that goes a long way. And I’m pretty fortunate. They obviously didn’t pay for the whole thing — my parents still managed to go into debt for my hockey. But with Kruger, them helping so many hockey associations, [makes a big difference] because not a lot of people are as fortunate as I am in that regard.

When you eventually played on the world stage representing Canada, what was it like — not even just for the reserve that you’ve been on, but for First Nations people across Canada — to see the return on that investment in you as a child?

Honestly, to be (in) the position it’s truly an honour to be able to be that person for so many Indigenous across Canada. I didn’t have that person that looked like me in my sport that went through the same things, same obstacles, racism, coming from an isolated community, knowing how uncomfortable it is to leave your norm and then have to leave to play hockey to pursue your dreams.

There’s so many First Nation kids that go through that same thing where it’s like it’s an unknown. Like you’re scared to leave your family and the world is a big place, so it’s very intimidating. And to show the kids that it is possible to achieve your goals. And my family is really big on goal-setting, and I made a list of goals when I was younger and playing on the Olympic team and playing on Team Canada and playing NCAA in the States (were) all on that list. And finally, slowly just checking them off, the goals I set for myself (when) I was younger. There’s nothing like that feeling. And honestly, I think it’s so big for people to see a person like them that achieves their goals.

I make sure to tell the kids, it doesn’t matter what you pick, what your passion is like my passion with hockey. If you want to be literally anything, a teacher, a doctor, anything, pick something that you are passionate about that, you have fun doing and do everything you can to achieve it.

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I assume that one of those goals was not being a scout in the National Hockey League. How did the scouting aspect of your hockey influence come to be?

Honestly, when they asked me to be a scout, I never thought in a million years that I would do something like this or even get asked or presented the job. Accepting that role is kind of like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. And it’s different and it’s a good difference. I’m very eager to learn from other people or keep going and watching games and talking out different things, and it’s definitely just a learning process along the way, and it’s a lot of fun to do.

Is watching the game through that lens helping you as a player now? Are there things that you pick up scouting that you’ve been able to implement in your game?

My bread and butter on the ice was my vision and passing and obviously slapshot. But watching games now and being able to break down the game that way helps. I spent hours, I spent so much time watching my own games and watching my shifts. Now (when) I’m watching a game, I’m focusing on a few players, and yeah, it just kind of comes to me, and it’s pretty simple to pick out different things that the kid can improve on or they’re really good at.

Scouting is an area where there isn’t as much diversity. There is starting to be now with female players like yourself, whether it’s diversity based on gender or race. Do you think it’s a good sign that active players are being sought out to change the face of what hockey front office groups look like?

Absolutely. I think it’s very important to have representation. Obviously that matters. And not realizing that I was the first to be selected for being a scout, first Indigenous person, to be a woman, to be a scout for (an) NHL team. I didn’t think about that at all, and I still don’t really think about that much. It’s a cool achievement, but I want to do the best I can at my job or just be present in the task at hand. I’m more focused on doing what I’m doing, and it is very important to have visible role models in those positions and even to just change the way the game is, really. A lot of the scouts are older and they’re white and they’re men, so changing that, it’s going to be a process.

My job is as a pro Scout, so I watch all the kids that are drafted in the NHL that play in the Western Hockey League. So, I’m going around Western Canada and watching games and writing reports on the kids that are already drafted (into the) NHL. So not necessarily finding new talent but keeping tabs on the kids that are already drafted just in case they stand out or they’re improving over the years and stuff like that.

I think it’s showing people that it is possible to do other things besides playing hockey. This opportunity of being a scout, I feel like a lot of people want a job like that but don’t know how to. Showing Indigenous kids and minorities that it is possible to get to (the) national, international stage and everything like that.

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It’s a great opportunity, but at the same time, do you have mixed emotions on it? Do you feel a little regret in the fact that you have to, as a female hockey player, have side hustles and side gigs where your male counterparts can solely focus on playing the game?

That’s the thing with our PWHPA, that’s what we’re aiming for. Is a sustainable league and one day to be able to not have to have side gigs or engagements, things like that, and be able to focus solely on hockey. We’re hoping to one day get to that point and we’re making steps with the PWHPA, but we still have a ways to go.

What are the remaining hurdles?

Well, obviously forming a league is one. I feel like we’ve gained a lot of momentum over the last few years with the association that we’re playing in and doing showcases and showcasing our talent, and I guess just the talent of the women’s game. And I still feel like obviously getting to one sustainable league is what the goal is. Honestly, I think, again, we still have ways to go.

You’re still working for the Blackhawks. There have been ongoing conversations on sport team names and the use of Indigenous logos. As much as people have had opinions, I felt that the conversation should be centred around the sensibilities of people who do have Indigenous background and are First Nation. Is there a guideline or approach that you have when you look at different names across sports?

I did my research before I took the job because I knew what kind of backlash I could have had taking my job and being Indigenous and having my own opinion over logos. I find that it’s not like a cartoon Indigenous person on the logo, the Chicago Blackhawks. If you go on their website, you could research it, actually and they ended up getting approval from the tribe and they’ve done a lot of things for surrounding Indigenous communities and having Land Acknowledgements and actually being respectful over it. I know there’s things like the Cleveland Indians where they had the chief Wahoo. I don’t think that is okay and that’s where I draw the line when it’s cartooned.

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