With the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation coming this Saturday, the Montreal Alouettes are making efforts to build ties with the Indigenous community closest to them.
That’s why members of the team paid a visit to the Kahnawake Sports Complex on Wednesday, September 27. The team had reached out to the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) to organize an event in the community.
“We wanted to do something more tangible to go along with the league-wide initiative,” said Mark Weightman, president and chief executive officer of the team.
Canadian Football League (CFL) teams scheduled to play on September 30, including the Alouettes, will wear orange and white warm-up jerseys, which will then be sold in a silent auction. Half of the auction’s proceeds will go towards the Orange Shirt Day Kahnawake committee, and the other half will go towards helping offset the costs of youth football for those in attendance on Wednesday.
Curran Jacobs and Helen Jarvis Montour, two of the Orange Shirt Day Kahnawake organizers, were also at the event on Wednesday.
“These players are celebrities to the kids, so it’s really exciting for them to be able to meet them,” said Jacobs. “Pro sports and players seem so far on TV, but really, they are just people. It’s really nice to be able to bridge the gap.”
Jacobs was glad to see the Alouettes look to deepen the relationship between the team and the community.
“Talking is part of reconciliation work. Them being here, playing with the kids and then they invite them over to the game, it’s reciprocal relationship building,” said Jacobs. “We invited them to our community, and now they’re inviting us to theirs.”
Those who participated in the event were invited to come see the Alouettes play at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium on Monday, October 9, against the Ottawa Redblacks.
The event this week started with a meet-and-greet period in which defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy, linebacker Frédéric Chagnon, and wide receivers Austin Mack and Kaion Julien-Grant signed autographs, took photos, and talked to youth and parents.
The 30 or so youth from the community who were present were split up between the four players to form teams to play a casual round-robin mini-tournament. After about an hour of fun and big laughs from pro players and kids alike, a second meet and greet portion was held, with players signing and giving away sports cards and mini footballs.
“We’re lucky to have great players and even better human beings on the team,” said Weightman. “When we proposed this, they raised their hands up right away to participate.”
Dequoy said he’s very glad to have been able to give time on Wednesday.
“It was super fun,” said Dequoy. “Being able to give some time to the kids, seeing them be so enthusiastic was really great. And, giving back to the community and taking the time to listen and to come to see them and invite them to see us is great, too.”
Jarvis Montour believes that the team spending time in Kahnawake on Wednesday will help demystify perceptions of the community. “A lot of people have never been to an Indigenous community before. They’re unaware of how Indigenous people live,” said Jarvis Montour. As a result, she said, stereotypes and preconceived notions often cloud how non-Indigenous people see communities like Kahnawake.
To Weightman, the event couldn’t have gone better.
“It’s the first, but it’s definitely not the last,” he said.