Hocky sticks feature Indigenous women artist’s designs

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Shawna Grapentine and “The Free Spirit” hockey stick design and sticks. (Photo courtesy of Shawna Grapentine.)

By Dan Ninham

In early March of 2023 the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Women’s World Championships sent out a call looking for Indigenous artist to submit artwork for featured hockey sticks to present to their ‘Player of the Games’ at the tournament.

Shawna Grapentine presented three designs and one week later she was notified of the news. There were 81 submissions from across Canada and four female artists were chosen, she was one of them.

“I was ecstatic!” she said. “Still processing this great achievement. I am humbled and honored. Such a huge accomplishment in my career as an artist to be a face of representation for all women, indigenous and other. To have my artwork viewed on a global stage. I couldn’t be more proud.”

According to an article announcing the four indigenous women artists in the April 5, 2023 IIHF media webpage, Grapentine’s design “The Free Spirit … is of a woman’s face with multicoloured hair flowing across the blade. The colours represent different races, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses of the female experience.”

Grapentine said, “When I sat down to design the piece that was chosen, I was thinking about the shape of the stick, the blade, and what it represents to be a female in sports and just thinking about women and their walks of life,” says Grapentine. “From race, to being a mom, to being a business owner, all these different hats and journeys that so many women experience.”

Grapentine is Cree Ojibwe from the Treaty 5 Territory of the Hollow Water First Nations in Manitoba, Canada. She grew up along the northeastern shores of Lake Winnipeg, in the small Metis community of Manigotagan.

Grapentine graduated from Wanipigow School, Frontier School Division, located on her reserve community. Her home community was about 15 minutes from the reserve.

“I have always had strong interests for the Arts,” said Grapentine. “As a young girl I would colour, sketch, paint and doodle constantly. Our high school offered a lot of programs that centered with the Arts and I would always take part in whatever programs came my way.”

“After I graduated high school I thought my calling was in the ‘Advertising Art Program’ at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB,” she said. “I found out quickly that the program was not for me. Along with feeling lonesome and culture shock having moved from my small community to the big city, I found myself eager to find my way back home to my community. I did so and worked back at the school as an Education Assistant for four years.”

“During this time I still would paint and create artwork, I started selling artwork in local craft fairs and such back home and it gave me more confidence in pursuing my artwork dream,” she added.

Life happened, and she was married at 25 years old and welcomed their son Thomas at 27. “My husband has always been my ‘rock’ supporting my artwork and dream 110%,” she said.

“He allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom along with a starving artist for many years. I’ve been fortunate to have a strong support crew backing me, my husband, my parents, and my siblings along with the local communities back home,” she added.

In November of 2016 her family moved to Rainy River, Canada. Her husbands’ employment, along with looking for more opportunities for their family was the focus. Their son Thomas was priority #1 to give him more opportunity than they had, for education and sports.

She said, “Along with all the ‘hats’ being a mom, employment, work schedules, practices and everything in-between, I found time to keep picking away at my artwork.”

“Visiting schools and communities teaching Art programs, doing my own work and developing my Art business,” she said. “Covid hit and I found myself wondering ‘what was next?’ and how do I maintain a business without being able to visit schools and communities in-person along with craft shows. Then my online website and shopping page was developed. I also taught myself a designing program where I could reproduce my artwork on various items and products other than canvas or paper.”

Last summer they made the decision to enroll their son in Warroad School at the north central tip of Minnesota. She said, “Again more opportunity for him to grow and be challenged educationally along with athletically. I was presented with the opportunity to work at Warroad School part-time in the Indian Education Department. Things rolled along rather smoothly and we found ourselves quickly submerged in everything that Warroad has to offer.  The community has welcomed us with open arms, and I have met so many wonderful, hardworking people who inspire me to work harder than ever!”

She has many people to pay recognition to for her success. The Warroad School District and Indian Education Department are also supportive of her and her family.

“Warroad School, and the Indian Education Department has been a great influence,” she said. “I’ve been able to learn so much and it’s allowing me to grow and learn about my culture here in the U.S. It’s giving me the freedom to contribute and help out the best way I know how through my artwork and being a good human.”

According to her bio, the name “Moon & Back Custom Arts” originated from a children’s story book that Shawna shared with her son, relating to her unconditional love for him.
In a recent message to the Warroad community, Grapentine shared: “In April of this year, I was honoured to have been chosen as one of four artists to design and create a custom hand painted stick for the IIHF Women’s World Championships 2023. Being recognized on a global stage for the IIHF was truly an honor. I had the pleasure of presenting Amanda Kessel with one of my custom hockey sticks, awarding her for the ‘Player of the Game’ in the semi-final match against Czechia.”

She added, “I wore my Warroad Warriors sweater with pride during the global presentation on national television. I wanted to shine a light on the honor and pride that the logo represents. When we visually witness images that represent our culture it allows us to continue ‘to have the conversation.’ Let’s learn and discover the wonderful culture and communities of the Anishinaabe people! Allow the Native people to share their culture with the world, what it means and what it represents.”

“I wear the Warroad Warrior logo with pride, I stand behind my family of Anishinaabe people, the community of Warroad and what it represents,” said Grapentine.

See the Moon & Back Custom Arts website at: www.moonandbackcustomarts.com