Hamilton

Indigenous teens hope return of lacrosse to Canada Games will inspire future generations

It's the first time the traditional Indigenous sport of box lacrosse has been played at the Canada Games since 1985. This year will also be the first year women have ever been able to play the sport at the competition, which kicks off Saturday.

Box lacrosse was last played at the Canada Games in 1985. This year, for the 1st time, women will play, too

A person standing, pointing a lacrosse stick at the camera.
Kenny Porter is a 16-year-old lacrosse player from Six Nations of the Grand River, near Brantford, Ont. He is among the 38 Indigenous athletes competing in box lacrosse at the Canada Games in Ontario's Niagara region. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

It was a warm, muggy afternoon on Thursday when Kenny Porter picked up his lacrosse stick and headed to the backyard.

The 16-year-old from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario walked toward his make-shift practice area before firing shots toward a net and a towering backboard with a Haudenosaunee Confederacy flag painted onto it.

"I feel like there's a lot of pressure on me being the only Six Nations boy on the team," he said. "I just want to represent our town pretty good."

In two weeks, Porter will be playing box lacrosse for Team Ontario at the Canada Games, where he'll face off against other provincial teams.

The games kick off Saturday in the Niagara region, running until Aug. 21. Around 5,000 athletes and coaches will be in the area, competing in 18 different sports. 

This year will be the first time lacrosse, the traditional Indigenous sport, has been played at the Canada Games since 1985.

It will also be the first year in the competition's 55-year history women have been able to play the sport.

A woman smiling
Jordan Osborne, a 17-year-old from Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Treaty 6, is playing for Team Saskatchewan at the Canada Games. She said she's excited to play with other women. (Don Somers/CBC)

It's unclear when exactly lacrosse started, but the sport has a long history, with the National Lacrosse Association of Canada taking form in the 1860s.

"This is my first time playing on a women's team. I grew up playing with men and boys," said Jordan Osborne, a 17-year-old from Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Treaty 6, playing for Team Saskatchewan.

"I never would have thought I'd be here today."

To Porter and Osborne, lacrosse is more than just a sport — it's part of their culture.

"It's called The Medicine Game," Porter said.

"Normally we use wooden sticks to play, it helps people heal and it makes you feel better when you watch … All of my problems and worries float away when I'm out there on the floor."

Women's box lacrosse teams compete at Canada Games for the first time

2 months ago
Duration 2:13
Box lacrosse teams will once again compete at the Canada Games after a 37-year hiatus. This year marks the first time that women's box lacrosse teams will compete.

Kevin Sandy, the co-chair of the Indigenous Partnership Council with the Canada Games, says he's happy to see the sport back at the competition.

"It's our responsibility to keep it alive and make sure we're still doing and following our ways and tradition," said Sandy, who is from Cayuga Nation with the Wolf Clan in Six Nations.

Canada Games says out of the 324 lacrosse players competing this month, 38 are Indigenous.

Sandy said while it's nice to have the sport back at the event, he thinks Indigenous communities should have their own teams, "in the spirit of reconciliation and taking action and recognizing who we are."

There are already many Indigenous teams playing in regional leagues across the country.

A team of men pose with lacrosse sticks
Men from the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake were the Canadian lacrosse champions in 1869. (James Inglis/Library and Archives Canada)

Sandy also said there's some hope lacrosse may make a return into the Commonwealth Games or be part of the Olympics.

Porter and Osborne aren't thinking that far ahead though. They're focused on the games.

Women's teams have their first games on Sunday while men's teams will play in about two weeks.

Both players are bringing good luck charms to the games.

Osborne will put sage in her shoes while Porter will have tobacco in his.

A man holding a wooden lacrosse stick.
Kevin Sandy swings a traditional, wooden lacrosse stick with a deerskin ball, which he said are used in ceremonial games. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

"It's for protection and to ground myself and have a positive mindset coming on to the floor," Osborne said.

Porter added his jerseys will have "Every Child Matters" on the back.

Osborne said she hopes her team will have fun and win.

Porter wants the same and he also wants lacrosse to stay in the Canada Games.

"I hope it keeps coming back to the games so future generations can play. It's such a fun sport to play."

A boy shoots a ball at a net.
Kenny Porter plays a transition role in lacrosse. He said his dream is to play for the San Diego Seals in the National Lacrosse League, which has teams in both Canada and the U.S. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

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