Braden Holtby issued an apology on Saturday after images of his new goalie mask for the Vancouver Canucks, which featured an Indigenous Thunderbird and was designed by a Swedish artist, sparked calls of cultural appropriation.
“I wanted to make sure I apologize to anyone I offended,” Holtby said in an interview with CTV News. “It was definitely not my intent and I definitely learned a valuable lesson through this all and will make sure I’m better moving forward and do the things that help this community the most.”
Images of the mask were first shared on social media Friday by Sweden-based artist Dave Gunnarsson, who designs masks for many NHL goalies. In addition to the image of the Thunderbird, the social media post included the phrase, “Thunderbird, The Northwest Coast Indigenous Myth.”
But Gunnarsson removed the Instagram post on Saturday after several social media posts questioned why a non-Indigenous artist would design such a mask.
“Immediately thoughts of cultural appropriation come up,” Robert Philips, a First Nations Summit political executive, told CTV News. “When we see the mask, although looking brilliant, one of the first questions you ask is ‘who made it?'”
Holtby, who is entering his first season with the Canucks after signing a two-year, $8.6 million contract on Oct. 9, said he will not use the mask this season. He also said he will work with an Indigenous artist to pick a new design.
“The goal was and still is to include Indigenous artist and try and pick their brain to see how they would design a mask to best represent the history and culture around this area especially because it’s so vast,” he said.
Jay Soule, an Indigenous artist, told CTV News Gunnarsson’s removal of the social media post, “was a step in the right direction,” and said Holtby working with an Indigenous artist on the new design would be even more impactful.
“He clearly likes Indigenous art, that’s why he has chosen that style of work. Definitely collaboration with an Indigenous artist would be huge,” Soule said. “How great would that be for Indigenous people to be represented in an organization like the NHL.”