The NHL’s Seattle Kraken have partnered with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe to put the tribe's logo on their jerseys and help increase Indigenous youth participation in the area.
The team announced the agreement Wednesday at a news conference in Seattle. The Kraken will be the first team in the four major North American men's professional sports leagues to feature the name of a Native American tribe, unrelated to a casino, on jerseys since advertisements became commonplace in recent years.
“To be able to assert sort of our place and our identity within the city, within the region, with organizations like the Kraken, it’s hugely important and it’s hugely meaningful and really a powerful step for our tribe, for our people,” Muckleshoot Vice Chairman Donny Stevenson said.
The multiyear agreement also involves the construction of a sports court on the Muckleshoot Reservation, more Indigenous art at Climate Pledge Arena and the creation of hockey programs for Indigenous youth in the area. The Kraken are on track to make the playoffs in their second year of existence.
“One dream I have is young people throughout the Pacific Northwest who perhaps haven’t felt a part of it will now feel a part of it,” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said. “A dream of mine is someday a young person learns this support and succeeds, and maybe someday a young Muckleshoot kid wears that jersey with that patch on it.”
Gila River Resorts & Casinos, owned by the Indian community of that name, is the sponsor on Arizona Coyotes jerseys.
The Kraken's latest deal with the Muckleshoot Tribe comes at a time when appreciation for Native American and First Nations influences in the sport is on the rise.
But it's nothing new for the NHL's 32nd franchise, which before it had a name or an arena invited members of Coast Salish tribes in the area for lunch in 2019 to get their input on everything from land acknowledgements before games to how to best reach out to members of the community.
Leiweke and Mari Horita, senior VP of social impact and government relations for the Kraken, look back at that gathering as the start of a long-lasting partnership for an organization that has sought to be more progressive than hockey at large.
“One of the things we talk about a lot is trying to build the most inclusive and representative and welcoming hockey culture in the country,” Horita said. “Hockey has not historically been the most representative sport, and this is an incredible opportunity to start to shift that narrative and expand who hockey is for, so that a nontraditional hockey community can suddenly say, ‘Wow, this is a sport for me.’”
Leiweke, who previously worked for the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks, the NBA's Golden Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers and the NHL's Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning — the latter of which he was a minority owner — called it a business partnership and a community one. In informing team staff of the agreement, he said he “referred to it as one of the proudest moments” of his career.
“We’re new,” Leiweke said. “We’re second year in. To have this endorsement from the Muckleshoots means so much to us.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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