What may have brought rugby into the indigenous sphere wasn’t just the allure of a tough, athletic and ego-less game, but the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team and their show of culture by displaying their ceremonial Maori war dance before each game.
To them it’s what representing their country is all about — walking out in New Zealand’s All Blacks jersey, facing their opposition, and delivering a spine-tingling, hair-raising Haka before the whistle blows for kick-off.
This is reminiscent of the Smoke Dances that are performed before each of the Six Nations Rebels home and away games at times.
But since Iroquois Roots Rugby started, it’s been love at first sight for some of the players.
Iroquois Roots Rugby is an Indigenous-women-led organization that facilitates free rugby camps to Indigenous youth in Ontario.
The group has been running free training camps across Ontario for the past two years and head coach Meagan Wilson, 22, teaches introductory skills to players of all ages.
After playing with the Thunder Indigenous Rugby Program in Victoria and then at McMaster University, she was inspired to bring the game closer to her home of Six Nations of the Grand River.
Wilson is passionate about the sport itself and also because of its accessibility.
She explained that there is a position for everybody no matter the skill level or body size. To top it off, while other sports need pricey equipment and built-up facilities, all rugby needs is an open space.
But the sport isn’t common among Indigenous youth as it competes with hockey, baseball and especially lacrosse, which reigns supreme. However, the physicality of box lacrosse is something that is shared with rugby and many that try it after playing box lacrosse, end up enjoying the rush.
This brought Iroquois Roots Rugby to run a pilot program two years ago in Six Nations.
For a month, youth aged 5 to 16 could come out one night a week to learn rugby skills. They held a party at the end, and the youth were awarded certificates.
As well, throughout the camps, Roots gives water, snacks, a healthy meal, and prizes like t-shirts or wristbands to the players. They also leave a ball behind.
Since then, the duo has visited seven communities, including Curve Lake and Tyendinaga.
Wilson says the number of participants increases each time, and they were able to create a U18 girls team to enter the Great North 7s tournament in Markham earlier in July. They also entered a U18 boys team in collaboration with Upright Rugby.
The pair hope to key into high-performance training in order to help youth that are interested prepare for a potential future in rugby in the North American Indigenous Games.