A Six Nations lacrosse team has pulled out of competition and says it won’t play again until the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) makes changes to address what the players describe as incidents of racism and years of disrespect.
Members of the Six Nations Tomahawks senior lacrosse club were slated to participate in a Senior Series Lacrosse tournament this past weekend, but refused to play, as first reported by Smart Sports Network.
Instead the team released a statement on social media saying it was taking a stand, pointing to an experience during games in St. Catharines on July 24 and 25.
“That incident stems from RACISM that we have for too long endured,” it reads.
“We have put up with racial slurs, rule bending, rules ignored, fan abuse, and the list goes on. Our teams have been targeted for years and generations of blatant disrespect when we are the originators of this beautiful game we love and hold dear.”
Lucas Smith, a Tomahawks player, said a scrum he was involved in was at the heart of the incident that sparked the statement, adding a player from the opposing team was acting in an unsportsmanlike way.
While the two men battled it out in the box, Smith said their family members traded words in the stands.
He alleged a supporter of the other team pulled out a can of pepper spray.
Jeramie Bailey, athletic director with the OLA, said there was an incident between spectators that involved a report about pepper spray and the association directed the team to contact police.
A spokesperson for Niagara police said the service investigated and found no criminal offence occurred.
‘Generations of unfair treatment’
While the most-recent incident pushed the Tomahawks to pull out of play, Smith said their decision was not based on a single interaction. Instead, it was the culmination of years of feeling targeted and demeaned.
“We decided to say enough’s enough and we agreed as a team to take a stand. This has been years and generations of unfair treatment,” he said.
“Ever since we shared the game with the world, we’ve been treated pretty unfairly and just disrespectfully at a game we love and want to share with everyone, yet racism kind of shows through.”
Smith described racism as a “plague” on lacrosse and said the team wants to see the OLA to take action.
The Tomahawks are calling on the association to create a video about cultural sensitivity and its code of conduct that participating teams will be required to watch, Smith said.
They’re also looking to see Indigenous culture better-represented.
“We feel we’re the originators of the game, we care so much about this game, we should be able to have a say in how it’s shaped and how it’s played and how it’s conducted on and off the floor,” said Smith.
Bailey said he believes the type of video the Tomahawks are suggesting is a “fantastic idea” that the OLA is open to.
“I would agree that code of conduct likely should be part of that as well,” he said.
The association follows that code, has an anti-harassment policy and also adheres to the Canadian Lacrosse Association rules, which specifically address derogatory and racist language, according to Bailey.
“One hundred per cent, emphatically, the OLA condemns any sort of racism, whether it’s words or actions, that violate people’s right to participate.”
Stand about better future for lacrosse
The athletic director said the OLA is in communication with the Tomahawks and working to welcome them back.
“Those conversations are rooted in making those teams feel both welcome and appreciated and part of the league,” he said.
Smith said it’s “huge” that the OLA is willing to come to the table but talking isn’t enough, change needs to happen.
The team’s stand is about making sure future generations of Indigenous lacrosse players don’t have to shoulder the same experiences the Tomahawks have.
“We want to play more than anything, but we also feel we kind of can’t until we know something’s going to be done,” said Smith. “Not for just this one season, but for here on out.”