As It Happens·Q&A

Iroquois Nationals lacrosse player cheers World Games for finally inviting his team to compete

Aidan Fearn says the game of lacrosse was created to bring people together, and that's exactly what the international lacrosse community did for the Iroquois Nationals. 

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy team was initial excluded from tournament despite ranking 3rd in world

The Iroquois Nationals are heading to the 2022 World Games in Alabama after initially being excluded. (CBC)

Aidan Fearn says the game of lacrosse was created to bring people together, and that's exactly what the international lacrosse community did for the Iroquois Nationals. 

The team, which represents the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in international field lacrosse, had been deemed ineligible for 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Ala., even though it came third at the qualifying men's world championships. 

The Haudenosaunee are a confederacy of six Nations, whose ancestors invented lacrosse, which they call the Creator's Game. The team was told it did not qualify under International Olympic Committee rules, though the specific reason was not made clear.

The decision sparked international outcry, with Ireland pulling out of the World Games in solidarity. Then on Monday, World Lacrosse announced the Nationals would, in fact, take part. 

Fearn, 18, is a lacrosse player from Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia who be representing the Nationals at the the 2021 World Lacrosse Men's Under-20 World Championships in Ireland. 

He started a petition last month calling on countries to boycott the 2022 Word Games until the Nationals were granted access. More than 53,000 people signed. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Aidan, what does it mean for you personally to learn that the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team has finally been invited to the World Games?

Wow. To me, really, like, lacrosse is more than just a sport, right? It's a way of life. It's a game we play to unite people and bring healing to people who watch it and also play it.

I'm really looking forward to representing next summer the Iroquois Nationals in Ireland for the U20 World Games. And then if successful there, you know, hopefully given the opportunity to wear the Iroquois jersey in Alabama.

It's just an example of how connected the lacrosse community is, how each person can unite and bring change.- Aidan Fearn, Iroquois Nationals 

We covered this story this summer when the Iroquois Nationals were told by World Lacrosse and the World Games that they would not be able to compete in 2022. So what changed?

The International lacrosse community really took action to support the Iroquois' inclusion in the World Games.

It started with 50,000 people who signed the petition. And also people wrote letters of support. And a lot of people went public on social media.

Then Ireland Lacrosse, they stood in solidarity to create a path for the Iroquois.

And then, you know what? The World Lacrosse, they listened, and they advocated to reverse the decision. It's just an example of how connected the lacrosse community is, how each person can unite and bring change.

It's a really powerful thing.

Aidan Fearn is an 18-year-old Iroquois Nationals player who launched a petition to pressure other countries to boycott the 20122 World Games in solidarity with his team. (Submitted by Aidan Fearn)

That petition that you launched [asked] eight countries to say that they wouldn't compete unless the Iroquois team could play. Ireland was the one that chose to do that, and people are saying that that was really the deciding factor. There was a lot of pressure. How did you feel when you learned that Ireland had made that gesture?

Grateful. And you know what? Just happy.

Did you expect that you would get a country to do that for you?

Honestly, I didn't know. And, you know, Ireland Lacrosse, it made me want to wear green for the next week.

Opening ceremony for the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. (Iroquois Nationals)

But you also asked Canada, who is also one of the eight teams. What did you think Canada should have done in solidarity?

Canada and the U.S. also, they did offer a lot of support to the Iroquois. And I know early on, I'll mention a player, Canadian player Curtis Dixon, I know he mentioned that he wouldn't play if the Iroquois ... weren't included. And I really did appreciate that kind of bold statement, especially early on, in the fight for advocacy.

Canada and U.S., the top two teams in the world, you know, they deserve to be where they are, and I'm happy with the support they showed.

You know, it's interesting and it's also a supreme irony that it is an Indigenous sport, isn't it? It's a game that originates with First Nations and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. ... So what do you make of the fact that ... this very sport that all these countries are part of would not initially include the Iroquois?

Being the No. 3 ranked world team, they deserve to be there.

And to answer your question, in our culture, it's the Creator's Game. We don't really play, though, for the sake of playing. It's way more than that. It's a way of life, like I mentioned earlier. And it's a healing game, right? It all stems from that, and it's just a huge part of life and a huge part of our culture.

What do you love about this sport?

At this point in my life, it's just a part of my identity and it's kind of who I am. Playing lacrosse for over eight years now since I was just a young guy, it's growing to be more than just a game.

I play for healing. I play for medicine. I play for those who can't.

I cannot express how much the sport has done for me and the opportunities it has provided. It's really everything to me and, you know, the love for the game is just beyond words.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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