APTN National News
Cheryln Billy stands on the bench with her lacrosse coaches cheering on Team British Columbia at the Six Nations arena, two hours west of Toronto.
“This is about teamwork, looking at all these young girls that are playing together. Against each other, but still together,” said Billy, manager for Team B.C. “Because they know they’re setting that footprint for other young ladies coming forward.”
Team B.C. is winning – at a game that for the first time in its 25 year history is being featured at the North American Indigenous Games – women’s lacrosse.
“It’s incredible to be the first group of girls,” said Olivia Fetch, a member of team Saskatchewan. “This is history in the making. It feels awesome.”
On Monday, the U19 female teams started competition at NAIG in Toronto.
At the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena in Six Nations, Team Saskatchewan faced Team British Columbia.
While it is the first female lacrosse games at NAIG, many of these girls have been playing the sport for years.
“To have it hosted here on Six Nations, the nation that continues to bring forward a lot of great lacrosse talent, is amazing,” said Billy. “All these young women coming forward today? This is powerful. All of our nations coming together.”
Emmery Borg is on Team BC. He said though they didn’t win their first game against Ontario earlier in the day, she still felt they were all winners.
“It’s an amazing opportunity because women’s sports usually don’t get recognized as much as men’s but this really helps and we’ve introduced lacrosse to so many new people,” said Borg.
While lacrosse is traditionally played by men, Billy said the inclusion of women is about reconciliation.
“This is a part of the healing of our nations to see women finally being on the floor,” said Billy. “We talk about reconciliation and all these activities but this really symbolizes it because lacrosse is a healing game and that’s something people forget.”
In a press release announcing the debut of women’s lacrosse, Cody Jamieson, Toronto 2017 NAIG Ambassador, said that lacrosse is a gift from the creator, a ‘medicine’ used to drive away sickness and create positive energy.
“Lacrosse, and sport in general, provides youth an opportunity to release tension and stress and replace negative energy with the positive benefits of participating in a team sport that has such an important place in Indigenous culture,” said Jamieson in the statement.
Borg just celebrated her sixteenth birthday. She said she fell in love with the sport, and started playing when she was four years old.
“The excitement you get when you score or when you make an amazing move,” said Borg. “When you stop a girl, you check her stick and get the ball back for your team. Nothing is better.”
So what does it take to make it in lacrosse?
“Determination. Lots of awareness,” said Annakah Ratt, an offense player on Team Saskatchewan. “Quick thinking! It’s so fast.”
Ratt’s brothers both played the sport.
“I didn’t see many girls playing and I was like, why not? Being able to come out here since this is a male dominated sport, it’s like, wow. I feel good!”
Many of these young women have spent much of their time playing lacrosse on boys’ teams.
“This is my first year ever on an all-girls team and it’s so awesome,” sasid Fetch. “It’s a different environment. Everyone is more welcoming to me.”
Jade Watson is Captain of Team Saskatchewan. She said playing with other girls means she doesn’t have to hold back.
“When you play with the guys it’s like they’re scared to go near you, cause, I don’t know, it’s just different when you’re a girl,” said Watson. “But here you can just go all out because you’re playing against girls and you’re just equal.”
Team BC won this round robin game over Team Saskatchewan.
The lacrosse competition for both men and women continues this week.
The medal games begin on Thursday.
Lacrosse is one of several Indigenous sports at three games, along with canoe/kayak and archery.