Brigette Lacquette is an inspiration for all First Nations’ athletes
As Team Canada collapsed to the ice, heartbroken after losing in a shootout to their vaunted rivals, the feeling of silver was a bitter one to swallow, at least temporarily.
The game was the gold medal match of the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. There was one specific individual on the ice who had plenty to be proud of, that being the Cote born Brigette Lacquette.
Asked if in time, the silver medal will be something she will be proud of Laquette responded “Maybe with time.” Lacquette was the first First Nations hockey player named to Canada’s National Women’s team, and she played key minutes in the final match.
She tallied one assist during the Olympic games as well. The accomplishment was a long time coming, as the 26-year-old had a successful three-year career at the University of Minnesota Duluth. There, the defenceman tallied 69 points in 106 games and racked up 166 penalty minutes as her physicality was on full display.
She was born in Mallard, Manitoba, a tiny community of 150 residents. However, her roots are embedded in the Cote First Nations community, located near the border of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Speaking with CBC, Lacquette said “My mom’s from Cote and that’s where she grew up.”
Unfortunately, she suffered from a bad form of eczema when she was young, and hockey was her refuge.
Her dad, Terance Lacquette, of Métis heritage and the O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nations, saw firsthand how tough it was for her and said to CBC, “When she was sitting in class, it would get itchy and she’d sweat. When she got onto the ice, she was able to hide her arms and scars and everything with her hockey equipment and she felt like just another person out there.”
She was also subjected to racist taunts, at the young age of 12. Her Dad remembers it well.
“Girls that age, you know, sometimes they get nasty and say things that they don’t mean. And on this occasion the one girl - actually a couple of them - starts saying something about Briggie and calling her a ‘dirty Indian’, ‘Go back to the reserve,’ and comments like that.”
“I could see when she came to the bench that something was bothering her, and she would have tears in her eyes, and it wasn’t the same joy that she had”.
Her perseverance through these hardships is what made her so special. One of her idols, and the reason for her love of hockey, is because of the former NHL player Jordan Tootoo. He is of Inuk heritage and the first player to grow up in Nunavut to play in an NHL game. She spoke to CBC about his impact, “Honestly, when world juniors happened in ’03, and Jordin Tootoo came on the scene, that’s when everything started. I was super amazed. He’s from up north, and he actually played in Brandon at that time too… it was a junior A team in Northern Manitoba, and I loved them.”
She also had the honour of having her Olympic hockey stick included in the Hockey Hall of Fame diversity exhibit earlier this year.
She used to be in awe of the great Canadian Women’s players like Hayley Wickenhesier, but she never had a First Nations player to look up to. Now, she is that player. She is very active in her community and surrounding tribes, knowing that all it takes is an opportunity for the next Brigette Lacquette to be found.
“It’s just very special for me to be that role model for young First Nation girls across Canada, Indigenous kids across Canada. I’m just super excited to be that person for them.”
Her father adds that “She basically kicked that door over and knocked it down and it’s not a barrier anymore in her life, and that’s something that’s important for not only her but anybody who’s faced a barrier in their life.”
The odds of a young First Nations girl from a community of 150 growing up and making the national hockey team were miniscule. Lacquette shattered those odds and earned a silver medal while inspiring indigenous women.