Anyone who has either attended a Seattle Kraken game at Climate Pledge Arena or watched the local broadcast is aware of the relationship the team has with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.
They’ve seen the pregame videos about land acknowledgments. They have watched the Muckleshoot Canoe Family perform during the team’s first Indigenous Peoples Night. They know the tribe’s casino, the Muckleshoot Casino, has dasherboard ads while also being the in-arena and broadcast sponsor anytime the Kraken go on the power play.
Wednesday marked the next step in that relationship, with the Kraken announcing that the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe will be their first sweater patch partner, making it the first time that an indigenous tribe will ever have its logo and name on a sweater after the NHL began allowing ads on the shoulders of uniforms at the start of this season.
“This is our official tribal seal. This is it. There is no variation. The Kraken have not adjusted it in any way,” Muckleshoot Indian Tribe vice-chair Donny Stevenson told ESPN. “It’s incredibly empowering. When you talk about the history of our tribe, we’ve gone in a 27-year period from being the second-poorest tribe in the state of Washington to a group that has the ability to engage in a relationship like this with our professional sports teams here in the region.”
The patch itself will be on the right side of the Kraken’s home and away sweaters. It’s a circular design with Tahoma — also known as Mount Rainier — set in front of a turquoise sky, and below is a beige-colored setting. It says “MUCKLESHOOT” along the top edge of the circle while “INDIAN TRIBE” is on the bottom half in bolded black letters.
The partnership will also include additional artwork at Climate Pledge Arena to celebrate Indigenous people. The Kraken and the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe have also committed to building a community multisport court on the Muckleshoot reservation. In addition, the Kraken have committed to creating programs for Indigenous youth as part of their access initiatives.
Although specifics of the deal were not released, there is a multiyear agreement between the Kraken and the Muckleshoot Tribe. It comes with the understanding that both sides will profit from the deal. Usually, the revenue that comes from sweater ads is something that is split evenly between the teams and the players, according to the collective bargaining agreement.
Items such as the sweater patch are reviewed by the Muckleshoot Tribal Council. Stevenson said the council are the top elected officials of the sovereign government that is the policy authority for the roughly 3,300 enrolled tribal members.
Stevenson added that the tribal council has quarterly meetings where they do solicit feedback from members, and that there is a direct dialogue with membership about what is happening with the short-and long-term future. He also said they talk about the tribe’s investments and the tribe’s economic standing.
He also shared how the membership has provided the tribal council with the authority to make decisions for the tribe and for the government. The decision to partner with the Kraken on a sweater patch was one that Stevenson said was a council-level decision.
Introducing ads onto team apparel is starting to become more commonplace within the NHL, with every team having a helmet ad. But not every NHL team has sweater ads. The ones that do have their design fit into a 3-by-3.5-inch space that’s not confined to a single shape as long as it fits. The NHL designated that those ads can be in one of four places: the left and right shoulders along with the left and right chest.
But for the teams with jersey advertisements, their partners vary. The Montreal Canadiens have an RBC patch on their sweater, and the Washington Capitals have Caesars Sportsbook.
The Kraken, who have The Climate Pledge as part of their initiative with Amazon as their helmet ad, could have gone in a number of directions when it came to choosing a jersey ad partner.
So, how did they decide they wanted to partner with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe?
Stevenson said when the team – when it was still known as NHL Seattle – first reached out to the tribal council back in October 2019 about the appropriate procedure to bless the land before construction and renovations began on the site that later became Climate Pledge Arena
It led to members of the tribal council, the tribe’s spiritual leaders and the Muckleshoot Canoe Family performing songs to bless the land.
“That’s something we do any time the ground is disturbed as part of our cultural beliefs,” Stevenson said.
Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke and Stevenson each said there was no real timeline for when both sides entered into a discussion about the patch. But those discussions with the Muckleshoot Tribe were part of an effort by the team to reach out to several indigenous tribes throughout the region about creating relationships.
Building those relationships was another extension of the Kraken’s push to make items such as diversity, equity and inclusion one of their core principles. Mari Horita, the Kraken’s senior vice president for community engagement and social impact, said the team is always trying to learn and listen from different voices.
Horita said that is why it took the team eight months to finalize the land acknowledgment statement that is read after warmups. The idea of doing a land acknowledgment was brought up, and the team looked at different ways to convey that message.
Once it had crafted a statement, the team presented it to the area’s Coast Salish tribes with the thinking being that the Kraken would back off if the tribes were not comfortable with it, Horita said.
“We engaged Native consultants to help us on this journey,” Horita said. “We’re not internally qualified to do this on our own. They had us talk to different Coast Salish tribes, present to the tribes what you’re trying to do, get feedback and from that come up with your ultimate statement.”
Stevenson said the Muckleshoot Tribe does have long-standing relationships with local teams such as the Seattle Mariners and the Seattle Seahawks. He said the tribe always felt there was potential to build a relationship with the Kraken when the area first learned it would be getting an NHL franchise.
But they also understood that they did not want to get too ahead of themselves and ensure that the tribe and the team both shared the same values.
Even though the tribe has partnerships with three major professional sports franchises, did Stevenson ever think something like that would ever be possible when he was a child?
Stevenson, who also sits on the city of Seattle’s Indigenous Advisory Council, said he was part of the last generation that was born before there were more economic opportunities.
He said he grew up on a reservation where there were homes that did not have running water, in addition to housing shortages. He also said there was a point when unemployment on the reservation was more than 95%.
“To see ourselves represented on a platform where there are thousands of people sitting and cheering and recognizing the name Muckleshoot, it’s so incredibly empowering,” Stevenson said. “It’s something that could have never been imagined even a generation ago. … It’s almost unbelievable.”