by Ben Pickman – SEP 17, 2021
photos by Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images and Kevin D. Liles/Sports Illustrated
In Canada, horrid discoveries have forced a humbling conversation about the sport’s role in “cultural genocide” against Indigenous peoples.
On June 12, in the second week of the Premier Lacrosse League season, one of the greatest players of the game’s modern era darted around Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Atlanta, just as he has done so often across his seven-year career. Cannons attackman Lyle Thompson fired home four goals, all from a variety of angles, on a PLL-season-high 14 shots—and while, yes, the Whipsnakes threw everything they had at him on defense, Thompson found himself weighed down less that afternoon by the body checks and poke checks than he was by the orange ribbon weaved through the bottom of his long, black braid. And by all that it represented.
Thompson, a member of the Onondaga Nation, took the field in Atlanta grieving 200-plus Indigenous children whose unmarked graves had been discovered a month earlier at the site of what was once the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. By wearing the ribbon, he aimed to channel his sporting spirit toward those who’d gone without a proper burial, and who’d never been acknowledged. And that energy, he says, “played a toll on my body. It played a toll on my mind.”
Canada’s so-called residential schools first opened in the late 19th century, and as recently as the late 1990s they remained a place where Indigenous youths—more than 150,000 of them, some as young as 3—were taken to be culturally indoctrinated. So far, 139 such institutions have been identified, the majority of them run by the Catholic Church, and their Indigenous children were systematically stripped of their Native culture, language and spirit.
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