Courtesy Kaiatanoron Mayo
When Taiosheratie Mayo went to see her younger brother Shatekaienthon Van Dommelen, 16, play at the Ontario Summer Games last weekend, she was not prepared for what she saw. There he was, #6 on defense for Six Nations, playing against the Oshawa Blue Knights (OBK) with his signature wooden stick, long hair, and carrying his medicine.
“I never seen a player get kicked out of a lacrosse game from wearing traditional medicines,” Mayo told The Eastern Door. “Just to see him walk off the floor with such a defeated face – I’ve never felt such a rage in my body.”
It was a few minutes into the second period, and the game was close, 2-0, when head coach for the OBK called a penalty on Van Dommelen on an equipment violation for wearing his medicine – the traditional wampum, which was classified as jewellery.
At that point, coaches from both sides and refs gathered to discuss the call.
The Canadian Lacrosse Association’s (CLA) box lacrosse handbook indicates that “Players shall not be allowed to wear jewellery (rings, earrings, chains). Players wearing jewellery shall be assessed a two-minute minor and a game misconduct penalty.” While the handbook makes exceptions for medical alert bracelets, it does not address religious or cultural items, although it does make this exception in the field lacrosse handbook.
“I actually told them, this is not just a necklace. You know what I mean? And in all honesty, the ref’s hands were tied,” said Miles General, assistant coach for Six Nations. “They don’t know our history, they don’t know what it means to us as Iroquois people. So they had to make the call based on what was in the rule books.”
“It’s a pretty gray area,” said Nathan MacDonald, coach for Six Nations. “As a referee, I don’t know why you can’t just call it and just say, you know, you take it off now, or, that’s the two minutes.”
Van Dommelen’s mother pointed out, “He should never have to remove his medicine. Culturally, when you think of it, ask a Jewish person to remove their yamaka or a Hindu to remove their turban. Like, really?”
As one of the strongest players on the team, Van Dommelen is known for his hard hits and protecting his goalie. Throughout the season, his growth has extended past the physical game – his mental strength and selfless playing are now a part of his game. His strength only made the call harder on the boys.
Allegations of racism, one-sided reffing, and a “volatile” coach reached a boiling point then, as Van Dommelen took the game misconduct penalty calmly, and sat out the rest of the game. After that point, the atmosphere changed, and the boys played out the game with emotions running high.
“It sucked the life out of us,” General recalled. “It was sad to see that happen to them because of who we are as a people, you know what I mean, because of who they were as a team.
“It was a real cheap way to win. I would not feel good about that win.”
The game ended in a 6-1 defeat for Six Nations and the team finished fifth.
This incident was one in an ongoing problem within the league, according to coaches and parents of Onkwehón:we players.
“Racism is alive and well in this day and age,” Van Dommelen’s mother, Kaiatanoron Mayo noted. “(A couple of) months back, I had a woman call my son a savage, and to go back to where he comes from.”
“We know there’s racism involved,” MacDonald said. “You’re putting this into these young kids, you know, whether they believe you or follow you.”
Players have had run-ins with the OBK coach before. “Shatekaienthon said, ‘Oh, that coach hates me anyways… He was arguing with me before,’” MacDonald recounted. “So (the coach) knew who he was, and he just went out of his way to run his mouth and belittle a young man.”
“I am not surprised that this incident has happened. As I’ve seen racism, I’ve seen name calling, I’ve seen referees call against our favour,” said Mohawk Council of Kahnawake chief Jessica Lazare, lead on Heritage. “I think it was extremely ignorant of the individual to ask and request for the boy to be kicked out of the game for wearing his wampum.
“I think there ought to be a lot more effort to learning about the Haudenosaunee culture as that’s where lacrosse comes from,” Lazare continued. “If you’re playing the sport, you have to know the history of the sport. It’s not just a sport for us. It’s a medicine game for us.”
Through it all, General felt proud of the way his players conducted themselves.
“Our young men showed a different kind of strength, not a strength to go out there and retaliate, and get mad and fight with fists,” he said. “Something Shatekaienthon has made leaps and bounds in, becoming a controlled, mentally strong player in his time here.”
Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) president Greg Hummel learned of the incident in speaking with representatives of the referees association, who explained to him that the significance of the wampum was not made clear when the call was made during the game, but was clarified afterwards. Once clarified after the game, it was agreed that for all future games, players would be permitted to wear the wampum.
Hummel believes the rulebook needs updating, and supports the CLA in making changes to the rulebook, which the OLA uses. “A lot of learning went on and understanding and I think they made some changes so that it wouldn’t happen again,” said Hummel. “I think there needs to be more dialogue based on regulations in place now.”
The Oshawa coach and the Blue Knights Lacrosse Association did not respond by presstime.
“This is the first time I heard anything about racist viewpoints of refereeing, comments that have been made, I haven’t heard any of that. I take that very seriously. You know what, there’s no place in this game, and it should be dealt with,” he said.
Hummel told The Eastern Door he will be inquiring further in order to examine allegations of racism at the tournament.
Ultimately it is a medicine game, and players are meant to have fun. It’s a teaching tool for raising young men with good values, said Lazare, who has two boys in lacrosse.
“The medicine starts with your own well-being in mind, obviously, trying to create that mind frame where it’s a playground for your well-being and your mind. Instead of a battleground,” said Jeremy Thompson, Onondaga Nation lacrosse mentor.
“What we’re trying to create is peace, peace within ourselves, and peace through wherever this game can touch – the minds and bodies of people to make a better world, and in their respective areas.”