SIX NATIONS – Arrows Express Sports and the Two Row Times have joined forces to help indigenous children rediscover their heritage through the game of lacrosse.
The program is called the “Arrows Express Sports Walk With Us” program, powered by Under Armor Sports Clothing, which is also a proud partner in this venture.
Brandon Nolan, the son of Buffalo Sabres’ coach Ted Nolan, will be the face of the Walk With Us program along with Six Nations NLL lacrosse stars Cody Jamieson and Craig Point of the Rochester Knighthawks and assistant coach Jason Johnson.
The idea Curt Styres, owner of the Knighthawks and the Arrows Express Sports and its many affiliates, came up with was a way to give back to Native communities in a way to help at risk children find themselves through the game of lacrosse.
Arrows Express Sports will send the “Walk With Us” team into a community to gift the students with 30-40 lacrosse sticks, a basic lesson in lacrosse skills followed by motivational talks by the stars about the importance of education, an active lifestyle free, clean of alcohol and drugs, and a reminder of who they are as Onkwehon:we people and what a rich heritage they represent.
“Curt Styres is all about how you live your life,” says Nick Rothwell who will be coordinating the program and developing the program’s website and social media campaign. “He’s about treating people well, eating well, exercising well, and avoiding any negativity in life. He thought about using lacrosse as a way Native children to re-engage with their culture.”
Although Styres was targeting First Nations children initially and those who are a little bit lost or isolated, the program is designed to engage at-risk non-Native children as well.
Walk With Us soon became a social enterprise for Arrows Express Sports and two events were have been put on so far.
“We wanted to try it out and see how children were going to react with a bunch of pro-athletes coming to talk with them,” says Rothwell.
One was done with the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, which involved 20 children, 10 boys and 10 girls, all from the local area whom the Centre itself chose.
“That went very well in Hamilton and we got some good exposure, and that was before Brandon got on board,” Rothwell said.
The second trial run was at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena in Six Nations where two kids, one boy and one girl, were selected from every local grade school to participate.
Both were videotaped for inclusion in a new documentary Rothwell is producing to help promote the program.
“Then we thought, OK we know it works, how can we make it grow,” says Rothwell. “Curt got his calculator out and estimated that there are 10-20 of us working on the program, and there are 2,000 reserves in Canada. If we go to every reserve it will take 15 years to do that.
“The idea now is to continue going to local reserves, but we are going to Edmonton with three local reserves at the end of this month, Minnesota, and Victoria – all locations where Arrows Express has a reach in terms of Rochester Knighthawks away games.”
The local organizers are gathering 600 kids to go to the Edmonton Rush vs. Rochester game on the first of February. But on the 31st, the Walk With Us Team is going to be there and they will be looking for 20 kids to talk with us about Walk With Us.
“What we want to create now is a ‘Torch Bearer,’”, says Rothwell. “We want to look into reserve communities we probably won’t get to go to and find children there to come here and learn about our mission and go back to their communities with the message and spread it that way.”
They plan on doing 12 sessions, one a month, but will still have one or two Torch Bearer sessions here at Six Nations for 200-300 kids to to be trained as local ambassadors of the program in their communities.
“Our aim in working dealing with the Two Row Times is as our media partner is to help us promote the program and our website throughout your distribution network and website online presence,” Rothwell says.
Brandon Nolan heard about the Walk With Us project and was immediately interested in helping out where he could.
“I’m super excited to be a part of it and have an opportunity to go across the country and help these children,” says Nolan. “Me and my dad only got introduced to the game a couple of years ago. We never had it while growing up at Garden River, but we absolutely love the game now.”
He is impressed with the scope of the program and the dedication of Styres to see it through.
“It is much more in depth than I originally thought it was,” says Nolan. “There are so many programs out there that go into First Nations communities where they come, they go and never come back. We want to be something where there is some kind of measuring tool and the kids know there is someplace to go for more information and more help. Then maybe go back. But we don’t want top just go in and go out and that’s it. We want them to know that we are always there for them.”
Now that they have great athletes in Nolan, and Point and Jamieson, and a great teacher in Jason Johnson, they are also recruiting Leroy “Jock” Hill and lacrosse historian Delmore Jacobs to offer even more cultural knowledge and insight into the program.
As ambitious as Walk With Us sounds, it is only the first step in Styres’ long-range vision. He also hopes to grow the Walk With Us campaign to create Torch Bearers, or mentors, in arts and crafts, language, music, and other elements of First Nations culture.
CORRECTION: Buffalo Sabres’ coach Ted Nolan p.3