Barrhaven Hockey Player Talks About Racism On The Ice

Jada Burke shared her experiences during Diversity and Inclusion Hockey Tournament

By Charlie Senack

Hockey is supposed to be a community sport; a time to cheer on your favorite team or make life-long friendships. Unfortunately for marginalized individuals, it can also be a place of discrimination.

Barrhaven resident and hockey player Jada Burke shared her story of racism on the ice during a Diversity and Inclusion Hockey Tournament organized by private school R.I.S.E Academy on May 25. The event held at the University of Ottawa attracted hundreds of youth who wanted to break down some of the barriers and stigmas within the sport they love.

“I had about three main incidents of discrimination and only one was at the upper level where someone called me the N word on ice during a game,” Burke recalled to the Barrhaven Independent. “I didn’t know what to do. The refs couldn’t do anything because they didn’t hear it. I went back to the bench yelling and screaming. I was very emotional.”

Burke, who’s been on the ice since age 3, admits she didn’t handle the situation as well as she should have, but how are you supposed to deal with someone attacking you for your identity? Burke said opening up the crowd during a panel discussion was both healing and empowering.

“I’m glad that people saw the emotion that can be triggered in racism,” she said. 

Burke spent most of her childhood playing for the Nepean Wildcats, which she called a supportive group where none of the incidents occurred. During a year she didn’t play for the local team, a referee said “back up Black,” following a scrum at the net. Other players heard it, said Burke.

The third incident was during a game with a French-speaking team. As Burke was heading back to the bench, a player from the other side turned to point out she was Black in a random, sudden conversation.

“It was a weird statement to say, and it was done in a way to get under my skin. We were wearing white so it had nothing to do with the jersey colour,” said Burke.

Burke spoke at length about what she and many other Black hockey players face during a panel discussion following the viewing of a documentary titled “Beyond their Years.” It profiled sports and social justice Icons Herb Carnegie and Buck O’Neil who faced discrimination in their respective sports.

It’s hearing incidents like Burke’s that encouraged R.I.S.E founder Rebecca Chambers to start the tournament and symposium three years ago. For every incident that is reported, there are many that never leave the arenas and change rooms.

Chambers, a hockey mom from Greely who used to teach at John McCrae High School, said she was proud to see youth have tough discussions about a topic that can be difficult to raise awareness around.

“I feel inspired by the hundreds of youth we see here today. We cannot create change if we pretend that racism and other forms of discrimination do not happen in sports like hockey,” she said. “For our younger generation it’s an opportunity to instill values in them at a young age. As humans we learn from liver experiences and hearing people talk about what they’ve gone through. For parents, it’s an opportunity to think about something they maybe haven’t considered. People generally want to be good people and support others.”

A new way of learning

The unconventional teacher started R.I.S.E Academy after finding it difficult to work within the confined rules of a traditional educational curriculum. When she taught full time in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, Chambers had her students work on passion-based projects, an opportunity for them to dig deep into a topic they care about. It’s a mission she’d carried over to the online school.

“Students learn so much more when they are engaged. Our learning is targeted towards the next generation of change makers,” she said. “Each course we offer is inquiry-based, following the Social Change Maker Model.  Throughout, students discover their strengths, motivations, and passions. While doing so they acquire valuable skills required for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Each course goes towards an Ontario Secondary School Diploma, and students are able to participate in the private school while still being part of their home schools or homeschooling programs. 

Former Black hockey player Bob Dawson, who had dedicated his retirements towards breaking down stigma in hockey, first became involved with R.I.S.E during its insertion through a “Blow the Whistle on Racism” campaign. He played a big part in the May tournament and said he hopes attendees left feeling inspired and empowered.

“For me, to make hockey safer, more inclusive and welcoming for everyone, it takes each of us to make a difference for all of us,” he said. “As co-chair of this year’s Summit on Diversity and Inclusion, we wanted to engage attendees in the difficult conversations about the culture of hockey and issues of maltreatment in all their forms. We also wanted to explore, debate and share insights on creating a safer, more inclusive, positive and welcoming hockey environment for all. I think we were able to do that.”

Burke, who went on to play hockey competitively at Lindenwood University in Missouri and later the University of Calgary, said she hopes to have the chance to speak at further R.I.S.E events and believes the conversations around racism will never stop — nor shouldn’t.

“Someone in the audience asked how long we’d be having these conversations for, when is it going to be enough?  I understand where that mindset comes from, but it’s still needed,” she said. “I don’t think we will ever get to a point where we stop having the conversations. People don’t realize racism and discrimination until it impacts them.”

To find out more about R.I.S.E academy visit: