(Courtesy Peter Montour)
Small groups of Kahnawa’kehró:non youth and adults have returned to the Kahnawake Youth Center to reunite with a sport they love.
The Kanien’kehá:ka Tehontatie:nas Mohawk Wrestling Club (KTMWC), which started in November 2019, has seen its attendance slowly creep up since re-starting this September after a year of dormancy.
“Normally, I’d be frustrated if I saw a small practice with seven or eight people, but right now, it’s actually big because so many people have so many fears of COVID,” said Peter Montour, head coach of the club.
The club plans to participate in tournaments, but none are confirmed as of yet. Wrestlers range from ages 13 to 19, but adults also come by and wrestle socially. The team has four certified wrestling coaches – Montour was once the only certified coach in town, he said – and others are working to become certified as well.
“We hope to have enough people so that at no point will there be a Kahnawake wrestler without a coach in their corner,” said Montour.
For many months, wrestling was nowhere to be found in the community.
The Kahnawake Survival School (KSS) team has still not begun training, although co-head coach Ryan Rice expects his team to start training by the end of this month.
“Since COVID started, we have had a lot of issues getting back on the mats,” said Rice. KSS and the Kahnawake Education Center have been reluctant to give the green light for the wrestling team to practice, he said, with final protocols still to come. He understands this reluctance, but acknowledged the difficulty for athletes and their families.
Rice has been fielding calls and texts every week from parents asking about the wrestling program, he said, especially given that some other programs are now active.
“I guess there’s some frustration on the parents’ side,” he said. “I hear the same story over and over from the families. The kids are not doing a whole lot. They’re playing a lot of video games. Some of them are putting on some weight.”
Under normal circumstances, the wrestling team would currently be preparing for November competitions.
Despite the circumstances, 17 students are currently signed up for the KSS wrestling team.
The Greater Montreal Athletic Association (GMAA), in which KSS usually competes, plans to move forward with a wrestling league this year. Details are still being worked out, and competition will differ from previous years. KSS expects to participate, according to Rice.
Howard S. Billings High School, which is coached by Montour, is also expecting to compete in the GMAA.
Back at the KTMWC, Montour is joined by his son, Otiohkwanoron Montour, in coaching the next generation of Kahnawake’s wrestling talent.
“My father practically raised me with this sport, so for me, wrestling is a big part of my life,”
said the younger Montour.
While the 29-year-old’s attention is now focused on coaching, he is also able to stay fit by wrestling at the club.
“Myself and some of my friends from high school, we’re actually throwing down on the mat and having a good time,” he said.
A former GMAA champion, he finds wrestling rewarding because he believes it is a domain in which hard work pays off.
“The coaches, they do it out of love,” said the elder Montour.
He believes the sport teaches the community’s kids how to become better adults one day and
that the coaches view nurturing this growth as part of their responsibility.
“Sometimes, you can be leading your opponent by eight points only to get turned to your back and pinned. It’s a heartbreaker. And that’s life,” he said.
“You can be flying high one day, and somebody pulls the rug out from under you. You’ve got to deal with it and move on. We teach our athletes how to be respectful. We teach them how to be good community members. It’s all part of the process – part of growing up.”
The club does not charge participants to attend, but a youth centre membership is required.
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.