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The healing power of the game of lacrosse

The First Nations began playing the sport more than 500 years ago. Today lacrosse not only remains an integral part of native culture, but is played by thousands of people across Canada. From its origin as 'The Creator's Game' to the overwhelming popularity of the Toronto Rock and the modern game, lacrosse has survived the test of time after treading down a long, controversial path that led it to become recognized as Canada's official national sport.

A throng of kids congregates on a poorly-lit street on a frigid night in Kugluktuk. Normally, the sight of these teenagers roughhousing with each other would be cause for concern. Drug and alcohol abuse and a high suicide rate among its youth have plagued tiny Nunavummiut hamlets such as this one for years. But as The National investigates, there's no reason to worry about these kids. They're playing lacrosse, a game that has become this community's lifeline.

Ross Shepherd is a high school teacher and the brainchild behind Team Grizzly, the school's athletic association. Using lacrosse as its centrepiece, Team Grizzly has had a remarkably positive effect in Kugluktuk by providing athletics as an alternative to crime for these kids. Kids like Nathan, a teenager who was on the path to self-destruction. Nathan was a chronic truant who was jailed repeatedly for breaking into people's houses to steal money for drugs.

Since the formation of Team Grizzly, he has become one of the school's top students and lacrosse players. "I used to always be so angry," admits Nathan "and [I] started playing lacrosse, shoot the ball as hard as I could to take out as much anger as I could." Adds Shepherd: "The athletic association has really worked hard at showing kids their potential. And if you put your mind to it . you can achieve whatever you want. And I think [Nathan's] a classic example of that." 
. With a population of 1,362 (2003), Kugluktuk - formerly known as Coppermine - is the most westerly community of Nunavut. It is located in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut, situated between the Coppermine River and the shores of the Artic Ocean's Coronation Gulf. Translated into English, Kugluktuk means "our land".

. According to Nunavut's chief coroner Tim Neily, 107 Nunavut residents committed suicide since the territory was created in 1999 up until May 2003. Nunavut government numbers (2003) reveal that the Nunavut suicide rate of 79 per 100,000 (between 1986 to 1996) is six times the 2003 national rate of 13 per 100,000.

. After lacrosse became popular in the community, the number of kids with 80-per-cent school attendance doubled. Many of the most successful students had not attended school at all the year before.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: March 3, 2003
Guest(s): Russ Shepherd
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Jennifer Tilden
Duration: 8:07

Last updated: September 20, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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