This is the fifth installment of a spotlight series dedicated to the indigenous players in the Western Hockey League. While typical player features include quotes to support the profile, this series will focus more on direct player quotes, rather than summarization, in an effort to prioritize the indigenous communities’ voices and give them a platform to tell their stories. For more information about this series, click here.
“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer
Seventeen minutes left in the game. The Regina Pats are down 4-0, and the opposing goaltender has been next to perfect. The seconds tick down. The Pats need a miracle if they want to stage a comeback.
Carter Herman sends a pass along the boards; Jaxsin Vaughan catches it. He zips toward the net. Ahead of him is a wide-open lane, the enemy defensemen hot on his heels. Before they can catch up, Vaughan snipes a shot over the goalie’s shoulder.
The goal horn bellows. The Pats are now on the board, and Vaughan has his second WHL goal. Euphoria ripples through the team as Vaughan sails down the line for fist bumps. His twin brother, Corbin, is among them, beaming.
Despite the scoring deficit and the eventual 5-2 loss, Jaxsin Vaughan stayed resilient, continuing to push even when it felt impossible. A competitive spirit, a high work ethic, and strong loyalty make up who Vaughan is, and reflects in both his game and his character.
From Merritt, B.C., Vaughan and his twin brother grew up in hockey, as well as a handful of other sports. “My dad played junior in Merritt actually,” Vaughan said. “So we started at a young age. We had a older brother that really loved playing it, too. We were right there with the mini sticks and stuff right away. So we got it from my dad and our older brother, they definitely paved the way for me and my twin.”
“We did almost everything in school. We did some running, volleyball, flag football, basketball. Outside of school, we played football for three years. That was a blast. We had a year of baseball in there. That was awesome, too. And when we were a little younger, we did BMX racing. We’re all across the West Coast, down in the states and stuff for three or four years.”
Vaughan and his family are members of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, a Nlaka’pamux First Nations government. Thousands of years old, the Nlaka’pamux Nation is one of the Interior Salish Nations, located along the Thompson and Nicola Rivers. (Read more about the Lower Nicola Indian Band and their history here.) Vaughan says he works every day to connect with that part of his culture and ancestry. “I’m Scottish and Dutch as well,” he said, “and I think I’m most drawn into the First Nations culture for sure. Like, last year, we got blanketed, [a sign of great respect and accomplishment within First Nations communities], which was really, really cool for me and my brother and a couple of other guys on the team. And then ever since probably a grade three or four, we’ve been drumming and stuff at school, a little bit outside of school and things like that.”
Growing up with his twin brother by his side is something he cherishes. When a Vaughan is being talked about, chances are his brother will be mentioned. Jaxsin doesn’t mind being lumped together so often, though. If anything, he uses it as motivation, fueling a friendly fire. “It’s like having a best friend with you all the time, right?” he said. “For some kids coming into a new team and a new environment, it’d be pretty hard. But me, having my twin brother there is making it a lot easier [with everything]. And I think another thing that a lot of people don’t see with twins is we kind of have a drive to beat each other. I think a lot of people don’t see that. It’s good that we have each other at all times, whether on the ice or in the classroom or wherever.”
Vaughan was drafted in the first round, twenty-first overall, by the Regina Pats in the 2021 WHL Draft. He signed with the Pats on December 27, 2021, playing his debut game on the same day. The forward netted his first WHL goal the next season on October 2, 2022, and his second five days later on October 7.
This season, Vaughan and his brother are listed as W-rated players on the NHL’s Preliminary Players to Watch List ahead of the 2024 NHL Draft.
Awareness In Hockey
An underrepresented community in hockey, indigenous players naturally look up to each other as role models in the sport. “It’s pretty cool to have [Zackary Shantz] here on [the Pats],” Vaughan said. “I played with him growing up. I know [Matt] Henry was last year and there’s a few other guys on [the] Brandon [Wheat Kings]. Gavy [Gavin McKenna]’s been my best friend for the last couple years now. The last two years on my minor hockey team… I’m still pretty close with him. And Dwayne Jean Jr., he’s another guy I look up to.”
When it came to NHL idols, past or present, Vaughan was quick with his answer. “Yeah, my favorite, my brother’s favorite, my older brother’s favorite, and I think my mom and dad’s too, is [Jordin] Tootoo. He’s a little… not in our time, but just the way he played and had good determination and stuff, he had the physicality and stuff, I loved it. I’ve met him a few times. He’s a very, very inspiring person and a very cool person to be around. I think I’ve been pretty lucky to talk to him a few times. A few years ago, for Christmas me and my twin brother and my older brother, we all got jerseys made and we got them signed. I think, I think Tootoo is definitely a big role model for me and my family.”
It’s role models like Tootoo who show younger indigenous kids that they have a place in hockey. Vaughan emphasizes the importance of showing up for these younger players, no matter your level in the sport. “I think one thing I really enjoy is the younger generations stepping in with [sports teams] and younger indigenous kids and stuff like that,” he said. “I think with a lot of [information about residential schools] just coming out now, just getting talked about now—it’s getting now taught in school now in the last couple of years. I think we really need the younger generation to be stepping up and being active voices and teaching and stuff. And on the team’s side, of course fundraisers and whatever they can to help those kids out if they can’t afford hockey gear. We need more indigenous players in hockey for younger First Nations players to look up to, in the Western League or in the National League, all of it. Us indigenous players in the WHL, we need to strive for greatness, be that example.”
The topic of indigenous imagery and symbols being used as team logos and names is commonly debated. If done in poor taste, it can be harmful, portraying negative stereotypes and misrepresenting an entire population of people. For teams like the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL, or the Kelowna Chiefs of the KIJHL, Vaughan says he finds it honorable, if done correctly.
“Well, I enjoy it, I enjoy looking at it because it’s pretty cool culturally and all that. I think it could be a very honorable thing if teams wear it the right way. I love it. I hope it can stay around and I hope they can keep putting them on jerseys and stuff because I think it can be very good. It can be disrespectful if people don’t really know what it stands for, or refuse to learn.”
“I lived in Kelowna the past few years, and the Kelowna Chiefs, the junior A team… A lot of people were upset about that name and logo, but what they didn’t know was the team’s owner stepped in and reached out to surrounding reserves and asked if they wanted to keep the name or not. They all said yes. They loved it. I think it can be a very honorable thing, and very cool to keep that around in sports and on jerseys and stuff. But again, it can be bad if people aren’t treated the right way.”
Representing the indigenous players in hockey is a responsibility for the teams, as well. Awareness nights are a part of that, showcasing specialty jerseys and promoting education on such topics. “Yeah, the Orange Shirt Project last year,” Vaughan said. “We did a little interview and documentary and thing with that. I think the league definitely took a step in the right direction and then [the Pats] were one of the teams who wore those orange jerseys at the game, which is another step. I think we can still do more. I think that’s a good start for the league and for us.”
“I think [awareness nights for indigenous players] are very minimal,” Vaughan continued, “just because there’s not a high amount of indigenous players. I think the ones that are in the National League and Western League, I think they’re doing a good job using their voice, making themselves be known and talk about their history and what they’ve faced as being an indigenous hockey player and stuff like that. So, again, I think efforts are minimal and I think we could do a better job and have more education on that level. I think the guys and the teams especially in the NHL do a good job promoting what they have and what they’ve learned.”
That education Vaughan refers to is crucial, but even when hearing about the struggles indigenous communities have faced in the past, and continue to face, it can be difficult to fully realize the impact. “I think a lot of people… they can learn about it, but they’ll never understand the effects of what’s happened in the past,” Vaughan said. “I think it’s really hard for people to see and go into those communities and see stuff like that. I think now that a whole bunch of stuff is coming out, I like that everyone is trying their best to reconcile and get more educated on it.”
Vaughan’s experiences as an indigenous player in the WHL have been nothing but good, and he admits he’s lucky to be able to say that. “Hockey’s a white dominate, white privileged white male sport,” he said. “I think that hockey players are overlooked a lot of the time because they’re seen as that white male, white privilege thing, but when you’re in a dressing room with everyone, you don’t really… at least in my case, I’m happy to say I’ve never experienced any of that [prejudice]. It’s a great group of guys in there and they’re all great people, for the most part. I’ve never really been around bad people. Yeah, there’s a few on every team or whatever, and I don’t know how it’s been in the past, but I think hockey players, they deserve a second look because the majority of them are great people and it doesn’t matter the color of their skin. I’ve been taught not to see color, see the person they are.”
When asked if there was an indigenous-run small business he’d like to promote, Vaughan suggested SECTION 35, a clothing brand founded by Justin Jacob Louis, who “launched SECTION 35 in 2016 with the intention to use art and fashion to tell his peoples’ stories.”
Vaughan said, “There’s a clothing brand that my brother and my mom and I all like, it’s called SECTION 35. They’ve got all kinds of good clothes and it’s for a good cause. SECTION 35… I might be a little bit off but I think it’s Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution Act. So it’s about treaty rights. It’s pretty cool.”
What’s Next for Vaughan
At only seventeen, Jaxsin Vaughan has a lot ahead of him. He has the chance to hear his name in the 2024 NHL Draft next summer, as well as several more WHL seasons ahead of him. From fun familial competition to a passionate drive on the ice, the young forward displays a strong character that will no doubt get him far in life.