Last week, the RCMP were called in when a brawl broke out during a minor hockey game in Stonewall, M.B. The Eagles from the Lake Manitoba First Nation were playing the Stonewall Blues when fighting erupted between players and fans during the third period. Kyle Edwards is a journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto. He is also former hockey player from Lake Manitoba First Nation.
When I read about the brawl that took place between players and fans at a minor hockey league game between a team from Lake Manitoba First Nation and non-native team from Stonewall, Man., I wasn’t surprised.
I grew up in Lake Manitoba and played hockey there for seven years. I saw the tension that exists between First Nations communities and other communities in that region everyday.
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Lake Manitoba First Nation, or Dog Creek as it often called, is a small reserve of about 1,200 people in rural Manitoba, two hours north of Winnipeg.
It's a community that loves hockey and has the best ice rink I've ever skated on. It’s one of few communities I know of that allows youth to skate everyday for free.
I lived there until I was 15 years old and won a minor hockey championship as a member of the Lake Manitoba Eagles.
I played hockey because every boy in my family played hockey — it came with the territory.
I immediately enjoyed skating and the challenge of lifting a puck in the air. On game days in the community, a lot of people would show up and cheer on whatever age group was playing.
I went to school on reserve until I was in Grade 4. Then my mother became worried I wasn't receiving a quality education on our reserve and made me attend elementary school in Eriksdale, Man., a town about 30 minutes away from my community.
I remember feeling disappointed because I was leaving my friends and scared because I had never been around kids that weren’t native.
On my first day I remember feeling so terrified, “culture shocked,” that I called my mother and told her I was sick.
I was one of four native kids from my reserve attending Eriksdale School at the time and one of six native students in the whole school.
My first year there was an uncomfortable one. I felt like I didn't fit it, I remember being called names that usually included the word "Indian," which meant I got into a lot of fights with kids who I would later play hockey against.
That conflict spilled over on the ice.
I remember a year when our Eagles team won a regional banner but never physically held it because the non-native team we beat, who was holding the banner in their town, refused to give it to us. I remember feeling confused and wondering why, and I still don’t know why. It was a clean and fair game, they just never gave the banner to us.
I think when a non-native team plays a native team, there is this expectation that it will be an aggressive game. I remember my grandfather telling me before my first "contact" hockey game that he has never met a native hockey player who didn't like to body check and I wanted to live up to his expectations.
In my experience playing hockey in rural Manitoba, I've seen and been a part of brawls that were the result of the tension between the communities and the physicality that hockey presents.
'I love hockey and it will always be my favourite sport but I'm disappointed not much has changed for the kids from my reserve back in Manitoba.' - Kyle Edwards
I've also experienced racism — things said to me by opposing players but thankfully never parents.
I have two cousins who play for the Eagles and were there during the brawl against the Blues last week.
My cousin Toby Missyabit was in the middle of the brawl trying to separate his teammates. He told me the fight broke out because the game was becoming overly physical, with players pushing and shoving away from the play.
Toby said someone told him to ‘Back away, you dirty Indian.’”
I stopped playing competitive hockey recently.I sometimes play at local outdoor rinks in Toronto and with former teammates when I’m back in Winnipeg.
I love hockey and it will always be my favourite sport but I'm disappointed not much has changed for the kids from my reserve back in Manitoba.