There is a long history of anti-Indigenous racism in the world of lacrosse.
NLL rookie Marshall Powless touched upon how through the years he unfortunately had to endure racism in both minor and junior lacrosse.
“I experienced racism in both minor and junior level,” Powless said. “In minor, I forgot who we were playing, and this kid came up to me and called me a wagon burner. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant until I asked my mom. In junior, I was playing against Hamilton, and this guy came up to me in between the whistles and said, you’re nothing but a dirty native. I replied with ‘what was that?’ and he said ‘you heard me’. I said ‘no I didn’t’ and he said, ‘are you going to steal my truck after the game?’ He began to go on about how we don’t pay taxes and other stuff.”
Powless, who had a stellar Junior ‘B’ career with Wallaceburg and the hometown Six Nations Rebels also went on to state,
“I never really told anyone except my family. I never decided to go above and talk to the head of the organization because I knew they were just going to shrug it off anyways so I just kept it to myself. It made me realize that racism is still here and it’s sad even at the age of junior players. It’s still happening. Because no doubt in my mind when that guy has a kid, he will teach his kid that it’s okay to be racist, and the cycle doesn’t stop.”
Grand River Attack veteran player Linz Smith, racism is also evident through Indigenous women’s lacrosse.
“I talked to a couple of ladies from my team and I think we’ve all expedited racism in lacrosse on some level whether it be on the floor in the stands or even on the field,” Smith said. “Refs treated us poorly when the women’s league first started as well. But we try not to let it get to us because we respect the game too much and we’re there to win and not to stoop to that level. As a captain, I try to get my teammates to walk away because I know we’re better than that. I won’t give specific examples but yes, we’ve all experienced it at some point in our years of playing and watching.”
Power forward Layne Smith, an extremely talented Six Nations player also unfortunately experienced his share of racism in both minor and junior lacrosse. Reflecting on his minor career Smith stated, “In minor playing Owen Sound, an opposing player took a cheap shot behind the play at me then proceeded to call me Pocahontas. As a young kid I didn’t know how to react. All I knew is it made me angry. I went after the player and took a penalty for hitting him behind the play.”
When it came to junior lacrosse Smith who also had a standout junior ‘B’ career with the Six Nations Rebels added,
“Often times in junior we would see refs giving us 3-4 penalties a period with our opposing team getting one or so throughout the game. We’d get retaliation penalties, all while teams we play have a big smirk on their face because they know. They know why they are getting freebies and we aren’t.” Smith went on to add, “My coaches over the years have taught us to let it go. To have tough skin. If we’re playing against another team and really all they have is to throw racist comments such as “wagon burner,” “dirty Indians”, “drunken Indians”, it shows they’re playing the medicine game for the wrong reason. It shows what kind of atmosphere they’re brought up in.”
Ontario’s Human Rights Commission announced earlier this month that it will have meetings on Six Nations in late winter/early spring and bring in an expert Indigenous facilitator to support discussions at Six Nations on how to take action and target anti-Indigenous racism in the league.
Smith is encouraged by the action he has seen from the OLA and how they have taken a big step in the right direction.
“You see a lot of action being taken when comments or incidents arise,” Smith said. Some still get swept under the rug, but I’m hoping these meetings completely make it known that there is zero tolerance for racism in lacrosse.”
The upcoming meeting with the Ontario Human Rights Commission is a giant step forward for a sport that has historically been plagued with anti-Indigenous racism.
Six Nations lacrosse players have withstood racist attacks throughout the ages, including Gaylord Powless, who despite enduring much abuse went on to have a star-studded hall of fame career.
Powless eventually would leave a legacy of relationship building between indigenous and non-Indigenous players.
Back in January 2019, Georgia Swarm star player, and 2016 NLL rookie of the year Lyle Thompson faced racism during a 13-11 road win against the Philadelphia Wings. Thompson, who has two other brothers also on the Swarm, and another named Jeremy on the Saskatchewan Rush, all proudly wear a long braided ponytail to honour their Indigenous culture. In this particular game against Philadelphia, Lyle Thompson scored three goals before the Wings announcer Shawny Hill made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
“Let’s snip the ponytail,” said Hill.
Surprisingly afterwards two fans seated behind the Swarm bench showed their ignorance by declaring, they were going to “Scalp” them.
Taking to twitter, Thompson wrote he hadn’t heard such overt racist sentiments “since high school.”
Hill did apologize but was terminated by the Wings, who to their credit reached out with a heartfelt apology to Thompson and the Swarm.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission made headlines on December saying they publicly announced plans in late winter/early spring to have a meeting with Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, the Ontario Lacrosse Association and the Canadian Lacrosse Association to talk about the seriousness issues of racism against Indigenous lacrosse players.
“Lacrosse has long been a way for Indigenous communities to connect with each other in a spirit of trust, respect and honour,” said Ontario Human Rights Commission interim chief commissioner Ena Chadha. “But connections with non-Indigenous communities are quickly broken and trust is destroyed when they are fraught with harassment and abuse. Our goal is to build relationships that unite and uphold reconciliation, and encourage all to proactively address racism.”
Cutline – Ontario’s Human Rights Commission says it is planning to come to Six Nations of the Grand River in early 2021 to examine anti-Indigenous racism levelled at Indigenous players. Photo NLL