It was May 2022 and Angela Jason found herself working at a corporate job in Thunder Bay.
“I just kind of stopped having my heart in it,” Jason recalls.
That’s when the Ojibwe woman from Sheshegwaning First Nation, who had been painting and creating art in her free time for years, began having serious thoughts about life outside of the corporate world.
“It got to a point where I needed to ask myself … at what point am I kind of doing a disservice with my mental health by trying to hang on and at what point is the company not really benefiting from my time trying to hang on?” says Jason.
Eventually, she decided to quit her job and become a full-time artist.
“I put in my two-week notice and I’ve been doing art since. It’s tough. Of course, anything worth doing tends to be a little bit scary,” says Jason, who works in a range of mediums that includes acrylic painting, stained glass, digital artwork and mural work.
Fast-forward nearly a year and the artist’s decision is paying off. Jason is one of four Indigenous women from Ontario chosen to design the Player of the Game sticks, which will be handed out over the course of 31 games at the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Brampton.
“It’s humbling,” says Jason, “It is acknowledging that my talent and skill is being recognized on such a stage, which is a huge honour.”
Cree Ojibwa artist Shawna Grapentine of Rainy River, Ont., Anishinaabe artist Cathie Jamieson and Shenoa Simon of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation were also selected to create Player of the Game stick designs.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” says Jamieson, who is from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation but lives on Manitoulin Island. “I wasn’t expecting to be selected because I have never entered into anything like this before.”
This is not the first time Player of the Game sticks have featured Indigenous designs at Hockey Canada-hosted events.
Alberta-based artist Jason Carter created designs on the sticks handed out at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton and four Indigenous artists from Atlantic Canada were called on to design the sticks at the 2023 World Juniors in Halifax and Moncton.
However, the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Championship will be the first time that all the participating artists, many of whom are self-taught, are women.
“This truly is an honour,” says Grapentine, who owns Moon & Back Custom Arts. “To be on such a worldwide scale with Hockey Canada and the IIHF Women’s World Championship, representing not just Indigenous women but women as a whole and as an artist, to have my piece seen and represented in that way, it truly means a lot to me.”
Symbolic designs inspired by women
Called “Free Spirit,” Grapentine’s design is of a woman’s face with multicoloured hair flowing across the blade. The colours represent different races, challenges, strengths and weaknesses of the female experience.
“When I sat down to design the piece that was chosen, it was thinking about the shape of the stick, the blade, and what it represents to be a female in sports and just thinking about women and their walks of life,” says Grapentine. “From race to being a mom to being a business owner, all these different hats and journeys that so many women experience.”
Inspired by the movement that hockey players make, Jamieson opted for a large eagle at the end of the blade facing towards the shaft of the stick.
“It's highly regarded for being a messenger, but also because of its strengths and qualities of speed, agility, sight, you know, swift, meticulous, moves in action,” says Jamieson, who works with a variety of mediums that includes acrylics. “These women in this championship, they're just as swift and meticulous and as elegant as these birds, these eagles, our messengers.”
In front of the eagle is a series of colourful circles and a floral arrangement, which represents the life cycle.
“Those colour nodes reflect … those stages of life, those life cycles when you're growing from a baby, a youth an adult to an elder and that you'll have your family always around you and with you,” says Jamieson. “I took that concept is our women are carriers of messages.”
Meanwhile, Simon’s design features a snapping turtle surrounded by water.
“I want other individuals to be inspired and curious when they see my art, and to create their path in the world that will lead them to achieve great things and to do the same for others,” says the 21-year-old.
Jason also opted for a woman in her design, creating a stylized profile of an Indigenous woman’s face at the base of the blade looking upwards.
“With Hockey Canada and it being a kind of a celebration of the women that make up these teams, I did want to feature a profile of a woman, not so much with detailed features that you can look at and go ‘Oh that’s so and so’ but more something that anyone can kind of see in themselves,” explains Jason.
Above the woman’s face and running up the shaft of the stick are the provincial and territorial flowers of Canada in a stylized Ojibwe floral pattern.
“This tournament has players from all over the world but just with it being held in Canada, I wanted to kind of focus on that side,” says Jason. “The reason why I chose flowers is just their versatility, it's not just their physical beauty, but also their resilience."
The position of the woman’s face is symbolic because it represents the idea of women being the foundation of a community, according to Jason.
“Whether that community is kind of on the larger scale, like something with Hockey Canada or something smaller,” she says. “Whether it's your hometown or if your community is your group of friends or just even at home, women do have a very, very strong foundational role in those communities.”