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Rock and Warriors take part in Indigenous Peoples Day festivities

Brett Mydske Brett Mydske - Vancouver Warriors

The Toronto Rock and Vancouver Warriors share some very distinct commonalities, particularly when it comes to geography. Not only do the respective clubs represent the two largest active Canadian NLL markets, but each franchise also lays claim to playing their home games within a close proximity to many First Nations lands and territories.

The Rock’s connection to the Indigenous community is a constant, whether it occur during the organization’s annual Indigenous Heritage Night, or the offseason, when the squad participates in Toronto/Hamilton area National Indigenous Peoples Day gatherings.

On February 24, the Rock hosted the aforementioned Warriors with players adorning dazzling custom designed uniforms created by designer Kory Parkin. The spectacular game-worn jerseys, helmets and shoes were subsequently auctioned off with more than $25,000 donated to The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, an organization dedicated to reconciliation and cultural understanding.

The third annual winter event is of particular importance to Indigenous players Justin Martin and Challen Rogers. Martin grew up on the legendary Six Nations Reserve, located 35 km (22 miles) south of Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre.

Trading in winter coats for short sleeves, Manager of Indigenous Relations, John Dunlop, along with members of the Rock Events Team were on hand at the recent National Indigenous Peoples Day Concert & Celebration at Celebration Square in the large Toronto suburb of Mississauga. The gala included music, cultural and traditional merriment, with The Halluci Nation and Manitou Mkwa Singers among those taking the stage.

Mississauga will hold extra significance to the Rock next season when the team temporarily relocates to the 5,600-capacity Paramount Fine Foods Centre, as the FirstOntario Centre undergoes a $280 million renovation. The Mississauga venue is home to Raptors 905, the G League affiliate of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.

Traversing 3,364 km (2,090 miles) due west, the much-improved Vancouver Warriors are just as intent on building bridges with the vast Indigenous population of British Columbia. While more than 400,000 Indigenous individuals reside in Ontario (Canada’s largest province), nearly 300,000 Indigenous residents are based in B.C. despite the Pacific Coast province possessing 10 million fewer inhabitants.

On March 1, the Warriors hosted First Nations Celebration Night when the defending/future NLL champion Buffalo Bandits took the field at Rogers Arena. The gala featured appearances by Musqueam Nation Chief Wayne Sparrow, Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Jen Thomas and Squamish Nation Councillor Wilson Williams, with Kitasoo xais xais Nation’s Hayley Wallis performing the Canadian and American national anthems.

Earlier in the day, the Warriors welcomed 80 students from The Xwemélch’stn Etsimxwawtxw – Capilano Little Ones School, with the young people spending time with players after the conclusion of morning shootaround.

Fast forwarding to the Western Canada summertime, Warriors’ Rookie of the Year Owen Grant and team mascot Timbr the Sasquatch paid a visit to National Indigenous Peoples Day at Tsawwassen First Nation. The pair was accompanied by the Junior Delta Islanders Lacrosse Club.

Situated 35 km (22 miles) south of downtown Vancouver, TFN’s Sports Field was the site of a four-hour cultural heritage celebration that included concerts by local singers Murray Porter, Wesley Hardisty and TFN Youth Performances, as well as an array of food/craft vendors and even a ball hockey tournament.

Talk about a fun Friday night!

Whether it be the league-wide recognition of Indigenous Heritage, during the course of the regular season, the incredibly important Every Child Matters campaign, or the year-round outreach to Indigenous communities, the NLL and its member franchises are dedicated to growing the connection between the world’s foremost box lacrosse league and the very people who created this amazing game.