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‘They violated her’: Aboriginal hockey player says someone cut her hair after game in Nova Scotia

N.S. Aboriginal hockey player says someone cut her hair after game
WATCH: An Aboriginal hockey player is speaking out about an incident during a hockey tournament in Cape Breton at the end of February. Alicia Draus reports.

Rhonda Knight has been playing hockey since she was five years old.

The 17-year-old plays centre and is the captain of the Hants East Rural High School team. Knight says that on the ice is where she feels most at home.

“It just makes me not think about everything else that’s going on,” she said. “I like it. It’s a lot of hard work but keeps me active. You’re kind of just anywhere on the ice. I don’t like being in one spot, I just like to move.”

This year, she helped her team place third at provincials, but an incident during a tournament at the end of February left Knight shaken and almost had her considering quitting hockey.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia hockey officials form task force to combat racism, discrimination

The team was in Cape Breton for a tournament on the weekend of Feb. 29, Knight explains.

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During the semifinals, they faced Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish, N.S.

Knight says they played the game and, unfortunately, lost 2-0.

After taking off her gear in the dressing room, Knight says she went back to the rink to see if she had left her stick on the bench. As she was walking back, she said she touched her hair when she noticed something wrong.

“There was a bunch of hair in my hands.”

Her mother, Tracy, was nearby and took a look at her hair.

“I started going through her hair, and a handful…came in my hand, so I’m looking and I said, ‘Somebody cut your hair,'” Tracy explained.

Rhonda Knight and her mother Tracy say they believe another hockey player cut her hair during a tournament in Cape Breton.
Rhonda Knight and her mother Tracy say they believe another hockey player cut her hair during a tournament in Cape Breton. Rhonda Knight

Knight said she was devastated. She says she is proud of her long hair and hasn’t cut it in four years.

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She is a member of the Indian Brook First Nation and says hair is an important part of her Mi’kmaq culture.

“My hair gives me strength,” she said. “Our hair, it connects us to the earth.”

Her mother says that while not everyone will understand the importance hair has in their culture, she says the decision to cut your hair is deeply personal and shouldn’t be taken away from someone.

“When you touch somebody’s hair, it’s like a personal attack on their soul,” she said. “They violated her.”

COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Ontario
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Knight and her mother believe her hair was cut by a player from J.H. Gillis when she went to look for her hockey stick. They say a chunk of her hair was found near the steps she took going into the rink.

“I don’t know if it was a personal attack on her for being Aboriginal or being a phenomenal player,” said Tracy.

The Knights reported the incident to the schools, the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) and the authorities but say that so far, nothing has been done.

RCMP have confirmed to Global News that they are investigating the incident but could not give any further information.

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READ MORE: Nova Scotia hockey officials form task force to combat racism, discrimination

The NSSAF has also confirmed it was made aware of the situation but, in a statement, said: “As the alleged incident occurred not as part of the game, the NSSAF defers such matters to the schools/regional centres who are better positioned to investigation and appropriately deal with their students.”

The principal of J.H. Gillis, the school the Knights believe the student who allegedly did this attends, has not returned any calls in regards to the incident, but the Strait Regional Centre for Education (SRCE) says it is taking the allegations very seriously.

“The Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School administration immediately began an investigation to determine the factual details of the alleged incident,” a statement from Deanna Gillis, co-ordinator of communications for SRCE, says. “Our school administration continues to co-operate with an RCMP investigation.”

No one was able to comment on whether any disciplinary action has been or will be taken, and the Knights say they’re disappointed with how this has been handled.

“I was assaulted at a hockey game. It’s just not OK and it doesn’t seem like anyone is taking any action to do anything about it,” Knight said.

“That high school team in Antigonish, they went and won the provincial title,” said Tracy. “The investigation should have been fully done before they even allowed [them] to play the rest of the hockey [season], but it just feels like they’re brushing it aside.”
Rhonda Knight is captain of the Hants East hockey team. This photo of the team was taken after they won a tournament in November 2019.
Rhonda Knight is captain of the Hants East hockey team. This photo of the team was taken after they won a tournament in November 2019. Rhonda Knight

Tracy says she wonders if that would have been the case had the scenario been flipped.

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“We have five native girls on the hockey team at Hants East. If any of those five girls had done something like that, guaranteed they would have been arrested, expelled from school, they would have been kicked out of hockey,” she said.

READ MORE: In wake of racism and abuse allegations, is hockey at its tipping point?

Knight says that at another tournament this weekend with another hockey league, she had to once again face the student she believes cut her hair.

She says it was difficult at first but she has decided not to let the incident get in the way of the game she loves.

She’s speaking out now to address the issue head on and let people know that what happened to her isn’t a joke and should be taken seriously. Even though the season is now over, Knight says she would like to see some sort of consequence for the player she believes was behind the incident.

“I want people to understand that it’s not OK for this to happen to anyone,” she said.