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Hockey Night in Indian Country: Spokane Chiefs Host Native American Culture Night

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The Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans were on the ice and the bleachers were nearly full with more than 8,300 hockey fans but this was Native American culture night and local tribes were well represented both in the bleachers and on the ice. Cheldon Ramos and his brother Quanah, Colville tribal members, skated onto the ice in full regalia carrying an eagle staff and eagle dance stick. Skating with them were D.J. Pacheco from Laguna Pueblo and James Porter, Jr. from the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, each wearing their hockey gear.

Joining them were Imani Antone, Miss Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Little Miss Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Kathryn Matt. They wore beaded crowns and jingle dresses and dropped a ceremonial hockey puck onto the ice, the customary start of a hockey match.

A large screen showed Native American dancers and a flag song accompanied the video preceding the playing of the National Anthem. Mark Ramos, father of Cheldon and Quanah, was instrumental in working out arrangements with the Spokane Chiefs organization to put on this night recognizing and honoring Native Americans at a Chiefs game. Mark explained the flag song was from Blackstone. “It’s a universal flag song, probably the most used one. I wanted to use one that the Native American audience would recognize, hoping they’d sing it,” he said.

The idea for this event came from Luke Apple, account executive with the team. He had formerly lived on the west side of Washington where there is a large following of hockey by Indian people. “Here you have the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Kalispel and other tribes close by,” he commented. “The Spokane heritage here is just so strong. Why don’t we look into something with one of the tribes?” Then working with Mark Ramos the night’s program was put together.

His reaction to the outcome was very positive. “Mark and his kids are great. They came out in their regalia and really put on a show for everybody. There was nothing but great response. I think this being our first, we did pretty well.” It went so well that plans are to get together and plan a second evening dedicated to Native culture before the end of this season, “and two each year from now on. That would be kind of cool,” Apple said.

Gary Peterson photo

Cheldon Ramos and Jamie Porter, Jr. on ice during playing of flag song and national anthem.

Ramos already has ideas on changes for the second event. “I want to have a live drum for the flag song and live entertainment, whether it’s hand drum songs or some dancing.”

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The Coeur d’Alene and Kalispel tribes are already sponsors of the team and this game fell on a night when the Coeur d’Alene Tribe sponsored a bingo contest during the hockey match and gave away Chiefs’ jerseys and gift cards for the Coeur d’Alene Casino.

One of the Chiefs players, Todd Fiddler, is a Cree member from Saskatchewan. A few other Natives have played for the Chiefs in past years as well. Todd signed autographs following the game for roughly 150-200 people, mostly Native Americans. “They thought that was pretty neat,” Apple said.

The young skaters all play for hockey teams. The Ramos boys play for CDAHA (Coeur d’Alene Hockey Association). Their dad said it meant driving 80 miles roundtrip from their home but he wanted them to have the chance to play on the same team as Cheldon is 17 and Quanah is 15. “They’re good respectable kids so it’s a good investment, money wise and time wise. They’re learning leadership skills like being punctual, dedicated, and committed to the sport.” The eagle staff Cheldon carried was made from a hockey stick. “Instead of tossing it (after it was broken) I salvaged it to the eagle staff,” Mark commented.

The two younger boys also play hockey. D.J. Pacheco started on roller blades and has been skating about a year. He now plays on a house team at the Eagles in Spokane. Jamie Porter, Jr. has been playing since he was 5. His dad explained there is no ice rink in their home town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho so they travel to Creston, B.C., but even so, “he plays a lot of hockey.”

Perhaps one day one or more of these young skaters will play for the Spokane Chiefs.

Gary Peterson photo

Cheldon Ramos and Jamie Porter, Jr. on ice during playing of flag song and national anthem.

In several ways, this particular evening couldn’t have occurred at a better time. It was during Native American Heritage month. It took place just after many Indian people had received their per caps and were in Spokane to shop for Christmas which allowed them to attend the hockey game, some for the first time. The home team Spokane Chiefs was victorious by a score of 5-2 over their biggest rivals and Fiddler had a goal and an assist, his seventh goal in the past six games. It was also the 1,000th Western Hockey League game for Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur. “It was a bonus for the Chiefs and for us,” Mark Ramos commented.