Braden Holtby is a member of the Vancouver Canucks and it’s getting really real now.
On Friday, Holtby’s longtime mask painter, David Gunnarsson, debuted the Holtbeast’s new bucket for his first season in The Couve.
According to Gunnarsson, the design of Holtby’s mask is based “on the myth of the Thunderbird, a Canadian northwest coast myth. The huge Thunderbird is flying over the mountains to the ocean to catch orcas with his huge claws. A totally perfect story to create on a Canucks mask.”
Holtby’s new Canucks mask 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/dMoU8wwPLX
— World Hockey Report (@worldhockeyrpt) December 11, 2020
Gunnarsson credited Holtby for the creative direction behind the mask.
While it’s clear Holtby and Gunnarsson meant the design to be a tribute to a different culture, one could argue it’s problematic. According to dictionary.com, a Thunderbird is “a huge, eaglelike bird capable of producing thunder, lightning, and rain (in the mythology of some North American Indians).” The mask is essentially indigenous artwork done by a non-indigenous artist without context or seeming to consult anyone from said culture, which is considered appropriative.
That questionable design decision is out of step with Holtby’s longstanding activism in the DC community.
Holtby donated his time and money to help build a gym for kids at Hendley Elementary School in DC’s Ward 8. He helped raise money for tens of thousands of meals during the coronavirus pandemic.
In February 2017, Holtby was named the Caps’ LGBTQ-inclusion ambassador by the NHL, serving as a leader in the locker room and in the community on diversity, equality, and inclusion. Holtby also raised thousands of dollars for You Can Play after wearing a custom-designed mask during Hockey Is For Everyone month. For his dedication to the cause, Holtby received the DC Pride Ally Award. Holtby also spoke at the 2018 Human Rights Campaign’s National Dinner and was one of a handful of Capitals players who skipped the team’s White House celebration with President Trump.
“In the end I never really came up with a situation where I would feel comfortable going,” Holtby said March 2019. “My family and myself, we believe in a world where humans are treated with respect regardless of your stature, what you’re born into. So I think that’s just where it’s at in terms of this decision. You’re asked to choose which side you’re on and I hope it’s pretty clear what side I’m on.”
After George Floyd’s murder due to police brutality, Holtby released a powerful statement saying that “America will never be great until all BLACK lives matter.”
Holtby is several weeks removed from being trapped behind the Canadian/US border after he didn’t have the proper paperwork for his two tortoises, Honey and Maple. Weeks later, Upper Deck made a trading card of the two reptiles, officially making them the second members of the Holtby family to end up on a big-league hockey card.
12/12 update: Gunnarsson has deleted the social media posts which promote Holtby’s new mask, suggesting they are aware of the criticms it’s received online.
12/13 update: Holtby has apologized for the mask and will not wear it next season.
Headline photo courtesy of @daveart
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