Artwork on custom hockey mask accused of cultural appropriation, Canucks goalie apologizes
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks goalie Braden Holtby is apologizing after the artwork on his new custom-painted mask was criticized for appropriating First Nations art.
“I wanted to make sure I apologize to anyone I offended. It was definitely not my intent and I definitely learned a valuable lesson through this all and will make sure I’m better moving forward,” Holtby said in an interview with CTV News.
Pictures of Holtby’s custom-designed hockey mask were posted by artist David Gunnarsson on Instagram, but taken offline the next day after comments on social media began describing it as appropriating First Nations cultures.
The goalie mask is specially painted so that the wearer would appear to be wearing a mask with the face of a “thunderbird.” The text in the post describes the mask as “Thunderbird, The Northwest Coast Indigenous Myth.”
But a First Nations leader and a First Nations artist are speaking out against the design, which includes a painting style characteristic of several coastal First Nations such as the Haida, Tlingit, Heiltsuk and Kwakwakw’wakw.
“Immediately thoughts of cultural appropriation come up,” said Robert Philips, First Nations Summit Political Executive and member of the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (Shuswap) of the Canim Lake First Nation.
“When we see the mask, although looking brilliant, one of the first questions you ask is ‘who made it?’”
Gunnarsson, who in a 2019 Sportsnet article was described as “one of the most prolific goalie mask artists in the sport,” is based out of Sweden.
He has not yet responded to emails from CTV News Vancouver.
“I believe as well that it is cultural appropriation however I feel the artist has taken a step in the right direction by removing it,” said Jay Soule, an Indigenous multi-disciplinary artist based in Toronto.
Soule, who is from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, is also a long-time advocate who raises awareness about cultural appropriation of Indigenous arts through his website.
“When you think about the Indigenous economy and how it has been affected by all of this work coming from overseas, it is catastrophic to Indigenous artists and artisans who are trying to make a living through their work,” said Soule.
The front page of his website says that there is “a direct link between the importation of internationally made ‘Indigenous’ items, such as dream-catchers, masks, totems, statues, moccasins, images and other objects, and the devaluation of authentic, Indigenous art.”
“It’s about educating people about why it’s inappropriate, how it is inappropriate, who it hurts and how it hurts,” he said.
Both Soule and Phillips suggested the right method for Holtby would be to reach out and collaborate with an Indigenous artist for his mask design.
“He clearly likes Indigenous art that’s why he has chosen that style of work. Definitely collaboration with an Indigenous artist would be huge. How great would that be for Indigenous people to be represented in an organization like the NHL,” Soule said.
Holtby said that because of the uncertainty around the start of the NHL season his mask design was rushed – and that he will not be wearing it.
“The goal was and still is to include an Indigenous artist and try and pick their brain to see how they would design a mask to best represent the history and culture around this area especially because it’s so vast,” he said.
Holtby suggested that his mask-wearing could be part of First Nations storytelling, but did not specify which story from within the province’s 198 distinct First Nations he wants to help tell.