Meet Shatekaienthokwen VanDommelen, a 10 year-old boxer with big dreams
Meet Shatekaienthokwen VanDommelen, a 10 year-old boxer with big dreams
Photos by Dayna Danger

Why filmmaker Roxann Whitebean made the documentary Little Hard Knox

Photos by Dayna Danger

Shatekaienthokwen VanDommelen (aka “Tugar”) is a Kanienkeha’ka (Mohawk) athlete from Kahnawake. He’s 10 years old — with 15 wins and 8 losses in his competition history so far, this Mohawk athlete has quickly earned the attention of boxing champions across Canada and around the world. Everybody says he has a bright future ahead of him.

Shatekaienthokwen in the ring

Shatekaienthokwen has spent his whole life surrounded by boxing. His father was an amateur boxer; Shatekaienthokwen was in the ring as soon as he could walk. He started training when he was six years old and fought in his first fight when he was eight. He trains twice a week and everybody at the gym knows his name.

Shatekaienthokwen and I are both from Kahnawake, a Mohawk community just outside Montreal. His story fascinated me because he’s one the few boxers from Kahnawake and — even though he’s young — he has the potential to become a professional fighter.

Shatekaienthokwen in the ring.

I believe that encouragement and support is essential for all children, but it’s especially important to recognize our own young Onkwehon:we who are committed to their dreams, and willing to work hard to accomplish them. It is critical to lift up our young people as they begin to set goals — and do the hard work necessary to accomplish them. This is one of the many reasons why we found power in Shatekanienthokwen’s story and wanted to share it with others.

Little Hard Knox is about the start of Shatekaienthokwen’s relationship with competitive boxing. We wanted to honor the beginning of his story; to show the power of his commitment. Young Shatekaienthokwen is dedicated to his craft. He trains regularly and keeps his mind clear and focused. The results go beyond his performance in the sport: the community notices too.

Shatekaienthokwen and his mom.

Shatekaienthokwen and his mother, Kaiiatanoron Mayo, before a fight.

Unlike many other sports, boxing is community oriented — coaches and parents encourage athletes when they’re in the ring. When the bouts are over, many boxers sit in the audience and humbly converse with their fans. It was stunning to see the juxtaposition between Shatekaienthokwen the kid, a soft-spoken young Oonkwehon:we shyly answering my questions, and Shatekaienthokwen the boxer, a powerful athlete deftly moving around the ring, preparing to strike a blow against his opponent.

The atmosphere among the trainers at his gym, the Hard Knox Gym in Montreal, is extremely encouraging. They seek to instill a sense of sportsmanship in all the youth they mentor. Boxing provides a space for self-exploration and development, and it’s clear that the attitude at Hard Knox defines success as more than winning a boxing match: it is dedicated training, keeping a positive attitude and treating your opponents with professionalism and respect. Boxing does more than develop the physical strength and prowess of these young athletes. It develops their character, as well.

Shatekaienthokwen and his coach, Herby Whyne, pose for a selfie.

Shatekaienthokwen and his coach, Herby Whyne, pose for a selfie.

When you see a champion or your favourite fighter on television, remember that they began their careers long before they hit the big screen in sold out arenas. They started at places like Hard Knox, where people invested years of their time, energy and money into them.

This is why I wanted to make this film, because this is Shatekaienthokwen’s beginning.

All films are a collaborative effort and nobody makes a film alone, so I would like to thank the man behind the camera, Josh Usheroff. I would also like to thank my sound techs and editors.

I would like to tell Satekaienthokwen, his parents and trainers that I am very impressed with their work and the time that they have invested in this young man; without our subjects we have no film, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would like to give a shout out to all of the trainers and coaches who work with youth because it is not an easy task (and I know this because I’m a director who works with children).