A resolution has been found after multiple teams in the Lac St. Louis (LSL) 30 Ouest (LHTO) hockey league refused to play against the U18 Kahnawake Mohawks this year, a stance that struck many community members as racist.
The dissenting teams apparently cited a violent incident at a game against the St. Polycarpe Soulanges last season involving fans of the Mohawks – but not players – according to Kahnawake Minor Hockey Association (KMHA) president Justin Kariwakeron Horne.
The Soulanges Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) and LSL did not respond to requests for comment.
“We’ve been going through this since before I started playing hockey,” said Horne, referring to racist treatment. “I went through it playing hockey. It’s getting better, but it’s not where it needs to be.”
Horne only found out three weeks before the start of the season that the U18 Mohawks would be excluded from the LHTO league, where he estimated half the teams had refused to share the ice with Kahnawake. “We had an option to play three or four teams, but what’s the fun in that?”
The refusal led to confusion to start the year as the KMHA was forced to rejig its hockey program to include Junior teams.
However, according to Horne, Hockey Quebec then ruled that any teams refusing to compete against Kahnawake would forfeit their games, leading LSL to accommodate the U18 Mohawks in its Eastern Hockey League (EHL). The final result, enabling the KMHA to have Midget A and B squads, was determined little more than a week before the first puck drop on October 14.
“Seeing how the league will treat us is going to be the real outcome,” said Katsitsahawe Norton, mother of U18A player Tehaianerahkhwa Deer, who said she is satisfied with the result for now.
“For me as a parent and seeing this kind of stuff for the last 10-plus years, there should be more done as a whole league,” she said. “With Truth and Reconciliation Day just passing, there should be more in the league to end racism – maybe even have a lecture during the coaching certification process.”
According to Horne, KMHA had wanted to move to the EHL anyway because its teams are located closer to Kahnawake. However, the benefits are more than geographical, he believes.
“There’s a lot of diversity and a lot of mixed cultures,” said Horne. “They’re more understanding of what we’re going through.”
At first, KMHA also faced resistance from the EHL associations, but he said the Mohawks have been welcomed after sitting down with other teams’ representatives and explaining the situation. The EHL teams accepted that the situation was blown out of proportion, according to Horne.
“It’s Kahnawake, and we’re known for violence. That’s not my opinion, but I think that’s what the league sees us as – a violent association – so anything we do is magnified,” he said.
Horne concedes Kahnawake was not blameless in last season’s confrontation, but he emphasized the team’s players were not involved. “It started on the stands and then it spilled over to after the game, but it was in the stands. It had nothing to do with the game on the ice – the game was good,” he said.
Stone McGregor, who will play on the U18A team this year, was not on the U18 squad last year in the incident against the Soulanges, but he takes issue with the pre-season turbulence.
“It’s pretty sad why the other teams don’t want to play us when everything that happened was never started by us,” he said, adding that people can only take so much racist treatment before snapping.
He said the reluctance of other teams will only add to his motivation this year.
“It’s just going to be the same old, same old. We play, we argue, and that’s how it’s going to be. We’re not going anywhere, so every team is just going to have to deal with us whether they like it or not.”
Many KMHA parents express the need to prepare their young athletes to deal with racial prejudice that they have often been faced with when competing off the territory.
“Kahnawake has a bad reputation only because we stand up for ourselves,” said Skawenniioa Ashley Jacobs, mother of Joren Norton, a first-year U18 player. “We don’t teach our kids to back down and take it when teams are playing dirty or saying racial slurs. We don’t promote violence or fighting, but we also don’t back down.”
“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Horne. “I think each team is different, each player is different, but I feel like a lot of times we get categorized as ‘Oh, it’s Kahnawake, they’re physical. They’re a violent people.’ I don’t know how to explain it…. It’s a stereotype.”
Horne said Kahnawake has strong U18A and U18B rosters this year, and he expects they will find success in the EHL.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
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.