On Saturday, July 20, the sports world was greeted by videos and snapchat feeds captured of the brawl that took place under the roof of the Gaylord Powless Arena between the Six Nations Rivermen and the Owen Sound North Stars during game one of their series.
Streams of the two teams bench brawling was shared by Sports Illustrated and Barstool Sports to the eyes of millions of their online followers shortly after game one finalized.
But the issues between the two teams that have caused similar situations have been reoccurring for the past 50 years, as a similar brawl can be recalled from just the previous season.
That evening the Rivermen walked away with a loss 3-7, but in game two they came out on top 9-4 on Sunday, July 21.
Unfortunately, this was the night that the decision to move game three and five to the Wayne Gretzky Centre and out of the Rivermen home arena was made by the OLA “due to lack of security at game one.”
In a publicly targeted letter posted to Twitter on July 25, Jake Henhawk, general manager of the Six Nations Arrows and current director of player development for the New York Riptide, voiced his disagreement with the choice and explained that the decision is “setting a very bad and negative precedent.”
“There are fights and brawls in almost every arena at some point regardless of the sport,” wrote Henhawk. “Why is this team in a native community being given this treatment now of all times? This WREAKS of discrimination and segregation in a sport we all love.”
He continued to explain that he was not drawing the “race card,” but simply pointing to the obvious stigma that is associated with indigenous players and teams. He noted that the decision was made by the OLA without speaking with a Rivermen executive, but if the OLA had, they would have found that the Rivermen staff arranged for three members of the Six Nations Police to be present at the arena for game three.
As well, surrounding the brawl from game one, it was explained by eye witnesses that the incident occurred because of taunting and incitation from the Owen Sound players, rather than being incited by the Rivermen.
Henhawk finished his letter with: “To ask a team to leave their home is not right, if these teams are going to have a fight/brawl it is going to happen anywhere. All this is doing is adding fuel to a fire that should have not gone out of control in the way this has. There have been fights here with every team and not once [has any] been forced to leave an arena for another arena.”
He further called the decision “short-sighted” and urged the OLA to allow the Rivermen to play at home.
However, the Rivermen still went into game three at the Wayne Gretzky Centre.
Head Coach Stu Monture said that when he asked about whether or not the move was out of not wanting to officiate at the Gaylord Powless Arena or not wanting to officiate on the reserve as a whole, he wasn’t given a straight answer. It can be noted as well that the Wayne Gretzky Centre has access to a bar that is attached to the building, while the Gaylord Powless Arena does not.
“This series entered the political world with what they made us do — they made us move, which is something I still strongly disagree with just as our association does,” he said. “We’re the ones that gave them this game, and we’re still getting retracted back a hundred years.”
The team continued to play while missing several players, including Johnny Powless, who was removed Monture said.
“Both parties weren’t innocent, thats for sure,” he said. “I don’t condone the two or three guys that maybe overstepped the rules but at the same time, Johnny Powless got kicked out for [nothing at] all, and that’s what kind of told me that the officials were doing a name suspension, because he is one of the best players in the NLL.”
Despite not having the offensive power that they could have, the Rivermen still powered on in game three and took victory in over-time 11-10 in the Gretzky dome, surrounded by stands full of local fans.
“I was so happy to see the people that turned out to spend the extra twenty bucks to come up to the game, instead of just going to a short ride to Ohsweken. I was happy for the support that we had and if I could publicly say, I’m really grateful for the people that showed up for the games no matter where we were,” he said.
“The [officials] were trying to cut our legs off the best they could, but little did they know that we have a factory of lacrosse players with us.”
Monture said that the team pulled up a few intermediate players as well as Junior ‘B’ players for game four and he commended the lacrosse programming on Six Nations because the younger players excelled.
They polished off the series with a game five win in Owen Sound on Saturday, July 27, winning a close 9-8 final.
But despite the portrayal of what happened through social media, Monture said that the team is looking to forget what transpired and refocus on the task at hand, which is the next series.
“They thought they were going to cripple us, but all they did was wake us up,” he said. “We just gotta cool our jets and get back to the grind.”