By Darryl G. Smart
Ontario Human Rights Commission plans to address anti-Indigenous racism in lacrosse.
The OHRC sent out a release Tuesday, saying that it will meet with Six Nations of the Grand , Ontario Lacrosse Association, and Canadian Lacrosse Association in the coming months to discuss how to address systemic racism against Indigenous lacrosse players.
“For Six Nations of the Grand River, lacrosse is more than a sport, it lives as a Haudenosaunee life essence in the generations of our past, present and future,” Six Nations of the Grand River Chief Mark Hill said. “A gift from the Creator, lacrosse is the bridge that is meant to be shared with the world, in friendship, peace and unity. Our hope is that every man, woman and child that chooses to and wants to freely experience the thrill of playing the Creator’s game can do so in a healthy environment.”
There is a long history of exclusion and abuse against Indigenous peoples in lacrosse that spans generations. For example, legendary player Gaylord Powless endured racism from the lacrosse community throughout his career. Despite the challenges he faced, Powless left a legacy of relationship-building between Indigenous and non-Indigenous players. This announcement is made on Powless’ birthday to honour this legacy and to recognize the need for positive action to respect and promote Indigenous peoples and cultures.
The OHRC hopes to continue Powless’ vision through constructive and conciliatory discussions with Six Nations, the OLA and the CLA.
“Racial abuse and harassment have no place in sport; especially a sport that owes its origins to the Haudenosaunee,” OLA president Jim Bomhof said. “The Ontario Lacrosse Association recognizes the important contributions to lacrosse made by members of the Six Nations of the Grand River and affirms our expectation that interactions between members of the OLA must respect the history, culture, customs, languages, and rights of Indigenous peoples at all times. We are committed to collaborating with the Six Nations community, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the Canadian Lacrosse Association to rebuild and sustain long-term trusting and mutually inclusive relationships based on key values of our organization: equality, accountability and respect for the cultures and lands in which we play.”
The OHRC is committed to Indigenous reconciliation as a strategic priority, and is working to build accountability for systemic racism against Indigenous peoples in sport. Sport has always played a significant role in Indigenous histories, cultures and world views, and continues to be a key element of Indigenous identity. Lacrosse, in particular, has diverse Indigenous origins, and is known as the Creator’s Game or Medicine Game to the Haudenosaunee.
The OHRC will retain an expert Indigenous facilitator to support these discussions, which will start with concerns raised by members of the Six Nations lacrosse community as the first step in the important process of rebuilding trust, fostering accountability and promoting reconciliation.