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Brent Dodginghorse has a distinguished and impressive resume, but the 45-year-old member of Tsuut’ina Nation in Alberta has now set his mind to doing work that will help create positive change in sport.
Dodginghorse, a former minor pro hockey player, is also a former world rodeo champion in the steer wrestling event. Plus he served several terms as an elected councillor for his First Nation.
Dodginghorse, however, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago. At that point he took a good look at his life and wondered what impact he wanted to make in this world.
“It came down to hockey diversity,” he said. “I wanted to be able to make the game a better place.”
With his wife’s help, Dodginghorse developed DH Ranch, an organization that provides team building and diversity awareness education, among other programs. Through DH Ranch, Dodginghorse speaks about his past experience of racism and discrimination in sports.
“I was scared to tell the world about my story because the discrimination and racism that I went through was real,” he told a group this week at the Carnegie Initiative Summit in Toronto. The two-day event was held Jan. 30 and Jan. 31 at the Hilton Downtown.
“Eventually, when I built up the courage to start talking about it, the Calgary Flames heard about it.” Dodginghorse now serves as the Indigenous ambassador for the Flames, a National Hockey League franchise.
This marked the third year of the Toronto summit, named in honour of the late trailblazing hockey player Herb Carnegie, who was of Jamaican descent. Carnegie had dreamed of making it to the NHL, reads his biography on the Hockey Hall of Fame website. It reports that Carnegie was once pulled aside by his Junior A coach at Maple Leaf Gardens, where the team practiced.
“See that man up there,” his coach is said to have asked Carnegie, pointing to a man in the stands. “That’s Conn Smythe, owner of the Maple Leafs. He says he’ll give $10,000 to anyone who can turn Herb Carnegie white.”
Carnegie would later go on to say “The Toronto Maple Leafs were the team I rooted for as a boy. To find out that was how the owner of the team I rooted for felt about me was shattering, just shattering.”
A variety of panels and presentations were staged at the Carnegie summit that focused on underrepresented hockey communities, including the Indigenous community.
Dodginghorse was part of a Jan. 30 panel titled “Hockey is for Everyone.” He spoke about the work he does with DH Ranch.
“I guess at the end of the day it’s worth it when you do these talks and you have BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) or parents that are crying and saying ‘thank you for advocating on my behalf’. That’s what it’s all about,” Dodginghorse said.
Dodginghorse played two seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Calgary Hitmen in the late 1990s.
He then spent two years playing minor pro hockey in the ECHL as a member of the Pennsylvania-based Johnstown Chiefs during the 1999-2000 campaign and the following season with the Florida-based Pensacola Ice Pilots.
At the Carnegie summit, Dodginghorse said he was unable to address the racism he encountered while he encountered it during those days of his junior and pro playing career.
“We could not say nothing,” he said. “And we were scared to say anything… So now we’re just opening that door and we’re the voice for the future.”
Dodginghorse now relishes the fact he can openly talk about this past.
“The main thing is telling our story,” he said. “Being truthful through my voice and the way I saw it. And education awareness is huge. But as my presentation goes through, I’m doing a walk back into the history of the First Nations’ cultures and traditions and how beautiful our culture still is and how we share and how we teach. But also respecting peoples’ identities, which is very important. But telling it through my lens.”
Dodginghorse realizes that he alone will be unable to make change.
“It’s not one person,” he said. “It’s not one group. It’s by committee, having everyone included. And that’s the only way it’s going to happen.”
The Flames are not the only Calgary-based sports franchise that he works with. He presents to members of the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation.
Besides the Flames, this company includes four other franchises. They are the WHL Hitmen, the American Hockey League Calgary Wranglers, the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League and the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders.
The company also manages the Scotiabank Saddledome Arena in Calgary.
“So now, when I go down to the Saddledome, I literally get people coming up to me and pulling me aside and thanking me for opening up that safe place to talk about it and giving them that avenue of learning about other peoples’ identities,” Dodginghorse said.
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