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'Brings us together': First Nation in Manitoba celebrates Whitecloud Stanley Cup win

Andrew Tacan of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation headed to the powwow grounds Tuesday night after he and many community members watched one of their own hoist the Stanley Cup.
Las Vegas Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone, right, celebrates with defenceman Zach Whitecloud, centre, after scoring as Florida Panthers centre Aleksander Barkov skates away during the first period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Las Vegas. The Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in Manitoba is celebrating one of its own after Whitecloud and the Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Locher

Andrew Tacan of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation headed to the powwow grounds Tuesday night after he and many community members watched one of their own hoist the Stanley Cup.

Tacan said people in the southwestern Manitoba First Nation were honking their horns, cheering and shouting battle cries that could be heard throughout the valley. 

He was one of hundreds celebrating community member Zach Whitecloud of the Vegas Golden Knights as the team won the National Hockey League's biggest prize.

“It was just amazing to hear, like it must have felt like a battle way back in the day where you come back home with a victory,” Tacan said on Wednesday from the Dakota community west of Brandon. 

“It’s just one of those kinds of nights where it just sounded amazing. You could feel the pride in the valley. The whole entire reserve was cheering.”

Vegas beat the Florida Panthers 9-3 Tuesday night to capture the Stanley Cup for the first time. 

Following the win, defenceman Whitecloud hoisted the Stanley Cup beside his parents. He and his father embraced in what appeared to be an emotional moment. 

Speaking on Sportsnet, Whitecloud thanked his family for the sacrifices they made so he could play hockey. 

He also thanked those back on his First Nation for their unwavering support. 

“I’m thankful for everyone at home for following along and being a part of the journey and just proud of my heritage, proud of my culture and proud of where I come from,” he said. 

Hundreds gathered in the First Nation's community hall to watch Vegas rout the Panthers.

A mock Stanley Cup was placed on one of the tables. After the win, some had held it up and cheered.  

Tacan said the win lifted people’s spirits. 

“It brings us all together in a way that we’ve never really been together before. One man did that, one man brought us together,” he said. 

In a news release, the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation said it’s deeply honoured to celebrate its very own “Dakota Knight,” a nickname given to Whitecloud. 

The Dakota community said Whitecloud’s journey is rooted in the First Nation’s culture and values, and is a testament to what can be achieved when one is committed, resilient and dedicated.

"His victory is not just a win in the world of hockey, but also a triumph for the values that we hold dear in our community," it said in the release. "His success is a beacon of hope and an inspiration for our young ones who can now see that they too can reach for the stars and achieve their dreams."

Whitecloud has been known for his positive attitude.

Earlier this year, ESPN Sportscaster John Anderson apologized for mocking Whitecloud’s name after comparing it to toilet paper. 

Whitecloud accepted Anderson’s apology. 

“People make mistakes, and this is a scenario where not just John, but everyone can learn from and move forward in a positive direction and try to be better,” he said in May. 

Peter Woods, the executive director of Hockey Manitoba, said he expects Whitecloud’s win to inspire Indigenous players. 

“Certainly him as a role model himself is valuable for the promotion of the game, not only in Manitoba, but throughout Canada,” he said, noting the majority of the team’s roster is Canadian. 

“Not everyone was cheering for Vegas because everyone has their team, but when you have a team that’s comprised of predominantly Canadian players, I think that augurs well for the game in Canada and for the players that are being developed within our country.” 

Tacan said he hopes the Stanley Cup makes an appearance in the Dakota community. 

“This win has just been the biggest cherry on top for a community that’s looking to become better.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2023.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press