“I’m hoping that this really gives our girls the strength and support they need so that this program, this women’s program, can actually flourish and become a serious, competitive program.” — Aryien Stevens, defense player for the Haudenosaunee Women’s Nationals Field Lacrosse Team.
A light came at the end of the process of removing a general manager who wrote a letter of support for a convicted child sex offender while working in administration for the Haudenosaunee Women’s Nationals Field Lacrosse Team.
The team has since been disbanded and will be reignited as a new team with new management after the controversy was addressed by Six Nations and Onondaga Confederacy Council Chiefs and the Iroquois Men’s Nationals.
On Saturday, April 17, the Two Row Times connected with Aryien Stevens, the heroine responsible, to gain backstory in her plight to remove Tia Schindler from the teams management for her character reference letter in support of convicted child sex offender Matthew Myke.
“I just couldn’t stomach the thought of these little girls coming up and not even having a chance. Or being in this place where they’re supposed to feel comfortable, and there’s all of these people abusing their power and supporting men or people like that,” she said. “You see people getting fired for less and this is supposed to be a world team.”
“I did not want to be on the team where that was the skeleton in our closet.”
Out of the 32 reference letters written for Myke, two garnered public apologies.
It was reported by Two Row Times on September 12 last year that the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre issued an apology, after learning that one of their employees sent a false letter of support on behalf of convicted Myke.
By September 23, another apology was issued by Chairperson of the Grand River ‘Champion of Champions’ Pow Wow Charlene Bomberry, apologizing for issuing a letter of support for convicted child sex offender Matt Myke, without the consent of the rest of the pow wow committee.
But, Schindler did not.
This deeply concerned Stevens and other members of the Haudenosaunee Women’s Team.
“When I saw Tia’s name on there, I was just… disgusted,” said Stevens, mentioning the statistic that ‘one in three Indigenous women are sexually assaulted.’ “I couldn’t go there, after this, knowing of the letter she wrote and who she supports, and feel safe.”
Shortly, Stevens said that she garnered 20 signatures from players for a petition to remove Schindler. But, during a later try out, the staff were not present, which Stevens said was unusual and prevented more dialogue on the topic.
“Demanding the removal of a person in charge, who oversees young women, you cannot stand next to or behind a child rapist, point blank,” said Stevens.
“Tia backing a man who caused great harm, not only to the sexual assault of the child he was prosecuted for, but plenty of players on this team, and that’s why I spoke up. That’s why I used my voice as a survivor, with the strength I’ve been given from those hurt and affected by sexual assault. The time of being silent is no more and I’m very grateful for the Iroquois nationals organization for reaching out, hearing us and helping with the reform on the men’s side too,” she said.
“As a community we are responsible for the care of our women and children. This is about accountability.”
Alongside Stevens, Cassandra Minerd decided to quit playing for the team in protest in February of this year, and post the issue on their social media.
“We knew that if we didn’t make this issue public, they were going to push it under the rug, like they already had,” she said. “I believe that we should be supporting [the girl that was affected] and removing Tia was the bare minimum. For some reason, they just weren’t willing to do it.”
In hours, the women received messages reaching out from the Iroquois Men’s Nationals, and other young women reaching out and saying that they ‘admired’ them for what they did.
Stevens repeated the sentiment that her intentions were not to attack Schindler on a personal level, which she was sure to moderate during the petition process, but to have her removal protect the team and its players.
“We didn’t ask for [Schindler] to be removed or banned from lacrosse. All we asked for was her to be removed from the general managers position,” said Stevens.
“To me, I just felt that this needed to be said. I know the girl that was at the heart of this, and she went through hell,” she said. “The strength that she had to do this is what gave me the strength to do this.”
Looking forward, Stevens said that she is “still in shock” over how much will be changing for the team. She is hopeful that the reformation will bring about better management, and room for growth for the program to ensure that the team moves out of the cycle of other issues that were harboured due to poor management and lack of team dynamic.
“I’m just really hoping that with the removal of [Schindler] and the disbanding of the team, we can have a program where our girls can shine,” she said.
In closing, Stevens said that she hopes future generations, which could include her nieces, will be protected and supported while playing the sport they love.