Indigenous teens hope lacrosse’s return to the Canada Games will inspire future generations

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It was a hot, humid Thursday afternoon when Kenny Porter picked up his lacrosse stick and headed out to the backyard.

The 16-year-old from Six Nations of Ontario’s Grand River headed to his makeshift training area before firing shots at a net and a towering sign with a Haudenosaunee Confederacy flag painted on it.

“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on me being the only Six Nations boy in the squad,” he said. “I just want to represent our city well.”

In two weeks, Porter will play box lacrosse for Team Ontario at the Canada Games, where he will compete against other provincial teams.

The games will begin Saturday in the Niagara region and will continue until August 21. Approximately 5,000 athletes and coaches will be in the region 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 55-year history of the competition that women will be able to participate in the sport.

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

It is not known exactly when lacrosse began, but the sport has a long history, with the establishment of the National Lacrosse Association of Canada in the 1860s.

“It’s my first time playing on a women’s team. I grew up playing with men and boys,” said Jordan Osborne, a 17-year-old player from Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Treaty 6, who plays for the Saskatchewan team.

“I never thought I would be here today.”

For 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 my problems and worries go away when I’m out there on the floor.”

Women’s box lacrosse teams at Canada Games for first time

Box lacrosse teams will return to the Canada Games after a 37-year hiatus. This year marks the first women’s box lacrosse team competition.

Kevin Sandy, co-chair of the Canada Games Indigenous Partnerships Council, says he’s happy to see the sport back in competition.

“It’s our responsibility to keep it alive and to make sure that we continue to do and follow our ways and traditions,” said Sandy, who is from the Cayuga Nation with the Six Nations Wolf Clan.

The Canada Games says 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, action and acknowledgment of who we are.”

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

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

Sandy also said there is some hope that lacrosse will make a return to the Commonwealth Games or make it into the Olympics.

Porter and Osborne don’t think that far ahead though. They are focused on the games.

The women’s teams will play their first games on Sunday while the men’s teams will play in about two weeks.

Both players bring lucky charms to the games.

Osborne will put sage in his 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 buckskin ball, which he says is used in ceremonial games. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

“It’s to protect me and ground me and have a positive mindset that comes to the floor,” Osborne said.

Porter added that his jerseys will have “Every Child Matters” on the back.

Osborne said she hopes her team has fun and wins.

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

“I hope it comes back to games for future generations to play. It’s such a fun sport to play.”

A boy throws a ball into a net.
Kenny Porter plays a transitional role in lacrosse. He said his dream was to play for the San Diego Seals in the National Lacrosse League, which has teams in Canada and the United States. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
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