Kanesatake school introduces Fort McPherson, N.W.T., kids to lacrosse in cultural exchange

What happens when a group of teenagers from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., spend a week in Mohawk territory?

They learn about lacrosse, and hope to bring the sport to their community.

Referred to as the Creator’s Game by Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee nations, lacrosse was meant to be played as a medicine game for healing people.

It’s still an important part of Mohawk culture, and is one of the things students at Ratihente High School in Kanesatake, Que., wanted to show their 11 visitors this past week as part of a youth exchange program through Experiences Canada with Chief Julius School in Fort McPherson.

Students from Kanesatake and Fort McPherson visited Montreal’s Mount Royal as a part of the exchange program. (Liza McLaughlin)

“At first, we were kind of wondering why they were putting two Indigenous schools together because most exchanges we do are with big city schools and students who never have had an opportunity to engage with Indigenous students,” said Tena Blake, a support staff member at Chief Julius school.

“But it’s actually been really powerful.”

Blake said that at the end of each day, the students talked about the similarities and differences between the two schools. Lacrosse is not played in Fort McPherson, but that might change.

“Yesterday, they were adamant that I tell the gym teacher that they want lacrosse equipment and they want to go home and teach other students to learn the game,” said Blake.

“Our students are very sportsy, so there is a lot of support for community sports programming. So, it’s exciting to see them want to go back and share something they’ve learned with all their friends.”

From Oct. 7-11, 11 students from Kanesatake travelled to the Northwest Territories to visit the Tetlit Gwich’in community.

Emily White, a Grade 9 student at Ratihente High School, said she was excited to welcome the northerners to her community this week.

“It’s cool because I get to show them our culture, teach them about the culture, and show them things they don’t have up there that we have here,” she said.

The students visited Montreal’s Mount Royal, biked throughout Oka National Park, toured Kanesatake, learned about the 1990 Oka Crisis, and of course, lacrosse.

“It’s cool seeing a different perspective on the world,” said Bryson Nerysoo, a Grade 8 student at Chief Julius. 

They’ll also be going home knowing greetings in Kanien’kéha (Mohawk language) like shé:kon (hello), skennenkó:wa ken? (are you at peace?), and o:nen (bye). 

Mohawk students from Kanesatake were in the Northwest Territories in October. (Liza McLaughlin)

“Just learning other people’s cultures, learning how they grew up has been really cool,” said White about the exchange.  

“Being able to see different places or communities, what they struggle with and what they’re doing to make their community better.”

The exchange was a new experience for Ratihente school. Liza McLaughlin, a special education technician, said in their small school of 26 students, opportunities like this don’t happen often. 

“It’s the first time we’ve done something like this, and it really created a big parental involvement. It feels good to be surrounded by this great community and we felt the same way going to Fort McPherson.”

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