Indigenous artists score big with beaded medallions and jersey design for Toronto Maple Leafs

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Indigenous artists score big with beaded medallions and jersey design for Toronto Maple Leafs's Profile


They needed to bead 30 medallions in 30 days for every player of the Toronto Maple Leafs — but each medallion takes between 10 to 15 hours to complete. 

In a quasi-assembly line fashion, Crystal Kimewon beaded 20 of them herself along with a team of six other women all from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, Ont.

Toronto Maple Leafs sported their customized medallions for Indigenous Celebration Day on Saturday night along with Woodland-styled, Indigenous logos on their jerseys.

It was the biggest project Kimewon ever coordinated.

“It really was an honour to be able to bead these for the team, and an honour to represent our community in this capacity,” said Kimewon on Monday.

Back in December, they were approached by organizers from Little NHL, an all-Indigenous youth hockey tournament, to participate in Saturday’s Indigenous Celebration Day. 

Crystal Kimewon, from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory in Ontario, beaded 30 medallions for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2023.
Kimewon said beading 30 medallions for the Maple Leafs was one of the largest projects she’d ever coordinated. (Submitted by Crystal Kimewon)

She said Mark Fraser, manager of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Leafs told her the team wanted the players to understand the magnitude and the significance of the gifts they received. 

To ensure cultural protocols were followed, the team reached out had Elder and Ojibway translator Phyllis Williams-Kimewon provide background on the traditional meaning behind the medallions. 

“Beading is our medicine, a medicine which we are sharing with each of you. Also, a symbol of wealth and prosperity,” an insert given to the players with their medallion reads. 

“We hope that you will wear our beadwork with great honour, the same honour we each held and continue to hold, in being able to bead these medallions for each of you.”

‘A dream come true’; artist’s jersey design highlighted

Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell of Wasauksing ON, was reeling from the game Saturday night when he saw the Leafs wear a jersey he designed.

“It was really surreal and breathtaking. It felt like a dream come true,” Rushnell said. 

“One of the biggest hockey teams promoting the Indigenous people in a good way was really beautiful.” 

Rushnell, 23, said he wanted to incorporate Indigenous culture and the Woodland-style artwork of the Ojibway people in his work. The Thunderbird patch on the jersey shoulder represents strength, he said.

Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell an Indigenous artist, holds a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey he helped design in his hands on Saturday Dec. 7 in Toronto Ont.
Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell said he worked with the Toronto Maple Leafs through December to come up with the design the team wore during warm-ups on Saturday night. (Submitted by Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell)

He said he worked as an artist for the past five or six years. His mom was adopted during the 60s Scoop and he was raised off-reserve in Belleville, Ont. 

His art, which was discovered on social media by the Leafs, helps him  connect with his roots.

As major Leaf fans, Rushnell said his family was proud and ecstatic to see his art during warm-ups on Saturday and by the team’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, on Sunday. 

The jerseys the Toronto Maple Leafs wore on Saturday night will be auctioned off, with the proceeds to be donated to the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre. 

Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares warms up in a limited edition jersey designed by Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist, for Indigenous celebration day.
Toronto Maple Leafs centre John Tavares warms up in a limited edition jersey designed by Tyler Tabobondung Rushnell, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist, for Indigenous celebration day, before NHL hockey action against the Detroit Red Wings in Toronto. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

By Monday night, the bid for the jersey worn and signed by the team’s captain Auston Matthews was at $12,000.

For Rushnell, a social media post from Indigenous Tourism Ontario, captured what Saturday’s celebrations were about, though. 

“Representation matters and seeing Indigenous cultures and people put in front and center and celebrated at a national-level major sporting event was life-changing for the children in attendance,” the post  said.

“We want to inspire and instill pride in those who have been ignored and excluded for far too long.” 



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