Bemidji State University and the Sanford Center hosted the 5th Annual Native Nations Night on February 3, 2017. Billed as “a night to honor the Native peoples and heritage of the Bemidji region,” the evening’s fans would watch the Bemidji State University Beavers men’s hockey team beat the Michigan Tech Huskies 4-2.
The evening’s events featured a ceremonial puck-drop, and discount tickets for tribal members. After the game, Canadian First Nation member and BSU hockey player Zack Whitecloud would visit with fans and sign autographs.
Upon entering the Sanford Center lobby, attendants were immediately immersed in a festive atmosphere. Inside the arena, bright lights were punctuated by light shows and thundering rock music.
About 7:05 p.m., a green carpet (BSU’s colors) was rolled out to the center of the rink, and the bright lights dimmed. A spotlight at center ice illuminated the Cedar Island Drum out of Cass Lake, Leech Lake, (David Northbird) who performed a flag song.
After the singing of the National Anthem, Red Lake Little Rock Representative Robert “Charlie” Reynolds, White Earth Chairman Terrence “Terry” Tibbetts, and Leech Lake Secretary/Treasurer Arthur “Archie” LaRose came out onto the ice for the puck drop.
“Please join BSU and Sanford Center as we honor Minnesota’s First Peoples at Native Nations Night,” said the announcer. “Will the Captains please come forward?”
The captains took center ice for the face-off, Tibbetts dropped the commemorative hockey puck, which was given as a souvenir.
Following the game, Zach Whitecloud held a post-game autograph session.
“The inaugural year that Bemidji State University and Sanford center honored American Indians of the area was 2013,” said Cyrus Pansch, the director of marketing and sales at the Sanford Center. “We were privileged that tribal leaders participate in the ceremonial puck-drop each year. It’s our way of trying to bring people together and highlight the unique diversity and contributions that Minnesota’s three largest reservations bring to the Bemidji area.”
Sanford Center shows its commitment to welcoming tribal peoples everyday, but participating in Bemidji’s Ojibwe Language Project. Each entrance/exit to the event center is posted with the words Boozhoo/Welcome and Miigwech/Thank You. All restrooms in the building have signage in Ojibwe and English as well, Ininiwag/Men and Ikwewag/Women.
The event was sponsored by Leech Lake Gaming and Bemidji State University. Sanford Center is owned by the City of Bemidji and it is to the City’s credit that Ojibwe/English signage is posted at all City owned public buildings.
About Zach Whitecloud
Zack Whitecloud is a member of the Dakota Band of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Canadian First Nation. “He’s a very good player,” said season ticket holder David Harrington. “He plays as much or more than any freshman on the team. He is the field general when it comes time to bring the puck up the ice in a methodical way.”
“I think he scored a goal on his first shot ever in the Beavers’ first game of the year in October,” Harrington said, “for sure he scored in the first period of play in that game.”
Proud of his heritage, Whitecloud wants to inspire aboriginal youth. He was named a co-winner of the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council athlete of the year award for 2014.
Whitecloud, listed at 6-foot-2, 202-pounds, is also a standout golfer. He has had an impact in the town of Virden off the ice. He’s helped out in the community in various capacities, including Virden Minor Hockey and helping youngsters in school. Whitecloud sees his community work as a way of giving back to the next generation. Virden is a town in southwestern Manitoba.