It was a warm, muggy Thursday afternoon when Kenny Porter picked up his lacrosse stick and headed out into the backyard.
The 16-year-old from the Grand River Six Nations in Ontario made his way to his makeshift training ground before shooting at the net and a tall shield with the Haudenosaunee Confederate flag painted on it.
“I feel a lot of pressure to be the only Six Nations guy on the team,” he said. “I just want to represent our city well.”
In two weeks, Porter will play box lacrosse for the Ontario team at the Games in Canada, where he will face other provincial teams.
Games start on Saturday in the Niagara areawhich will last until August 21st. Approximately 5,000 athletes and coaches will be in the area, competing in 18 different sports.
This year, lacrosse, a traditional indigenous sport, will be featured at the Games in Canada for the first time since 1985.
In addition, this will be the first year in the 55-year history of the competition that women will be able to play the sport.
It is not clear exactly when lacrosse began, but the sport has a long history: the National Lacrosse Association of Canada formed in the 1860s.
“This is my first time playing for a women’s team. I grew up playing with men and boys,” said Jordan Osborne, a 17-year-old Mistawasis Nêhiyawak Contract 6 player for Team Saskatchewan.
“I never thought I’d be here today.”
For Porter and Osborne, lacrosse is more than just a sport – it’s part of their culture.
“It’s called The Medicine Game,” Porter said.
“Usually we use wooden sticks to play with, it helps people heal and you feel better when you look… All my problems and worries float away when I stand on the floor.”
Kevin Sandy, co-chair of the Canadian Games Indigenous Partnerships Council, says he’s excited to see the sport compete again.
“We have a responsibility to keep it alive and make sure we still do and follow our customs and traditions,” said Sandy, who is from the Cayuga Nation with the Wolf Clan in the Six Nations.
Canada Games reports that of the 324 lacrosse players competing this month, 38 are indigenous.
Sandy said that while it’s nice to have sports back at the event, he believes Indigenous communities should have their own teams “in a spirit of reconciliation, taking action and acknowledging who we are.”
There are already many indigenous teams playing in regional leagues across the country.
Sandy also said that there is hope that lacrosse will return to the Commonwealth Games or become part of the Olympics.
However, Porter and Osborne do not look that far ahead. They are focused on games.
The women’s teams will play their first games on Sunday, while the men’s teams will play in about two weeks.
Both players bring good luck charms to the games.
Osborne will replace it with sage, and Porter with tobacco.
“It’s for defense and to ground yourself and have a positive attitude on the court,” Osborne said.
Porter added that “Every Child Matters” will be printed on the back of his T-shirts.
Osbourne said she hopes her team will have fun and win.
Porter wants the same, and he also wants lacrosse to stay at the Games in Canada.
“I hope it keeps coming back to games so that future generations can play. It’s such a fun sport.”