What could have been a black eye during a national level lacrosse tournament and would have seen a local PeeWee team removed from competition has now become an opportunity to educate and facilitate acceptance.
When Carmel Crowchild, a resident of the Tsuu T’ina Nation, attended the Canada Day tournament in Calgary to watch and encourage the only First Nations team playing a truly aboriginal-based sport and competing at the Canadian championship, she didn’t expect to be confronting an incident of racism head-on.
She also didn’t expect to be giving a 10-year-old Blackfalds Warriors Lacrosse player, Ethan Clarkson, a prestigious First Nations honour – an eagle feather – for his bravery in standing up against the incident, almost a week later.
But this was the case — a ripple effect teaching moment for all who gathered at the Abbey Centre Amphitheatre last Wednesday.
“When I give out an eagle feather I look at courage,” said Crowchild. “I look at honesty. I look at kindness. I look at compassion. I look at generosity and I look at self-sacrificing actions. That day in Calgary, I watched Ethan stand strong. I watched him be honest and self-sacrificing against his teammates.”
Crowchild said on that day, some of Clarkson’s teammates were making derogatory remarks towards a group of First Nations’ players, the team they were about to play, and towards those gathered to watch the match.
She approached the team and asked the young boys what they were doing.
“Did they know what they were doing is derogatory, racist and could be considered a hate crime?,” Crowchild questioned.
Since there was not an adult present with the group of players, she asked to be taken to see their coach.
“This young man (Clarkson) stepped forward and said ‘I will take you to my coach,’” said Crowchild. “Immediately you could see the looks of disappointment and anger on his teammates faces. You could see that they knew that they were going to get spoken to. He knew that, but he still stepped up and bravely took me to his coach.”
Crowchild spoke with the coach and the actions of the players were recognized to be wrong. After the conversation concluded, Crowchild was satisfied with the results, knowing the coach would speak to his players.
When she returned back to where her family was waiting, they explained when Clarkson returned from the locker room, his teammates turned around and started to attack him verbally, questioning why he took Crowchild to see their coach.
“To me that is an act of bullying,” said Crowchild. “When I recognized the bullying actions, I thought I would rather recognize Ethan for the bravery, the courage and the honesty that it took for him to stand up against his own teammates to do what was right, which was to speak up against racism.”
Crowchild approached the tournament committee, including Dean Smith, the discipline chair for Calgary District Lacrosse. After a brief discussion, Smith and two tournament directors decided to allow the team to continue to play in the tournament. Actions like bullying and making racial remarks can cause a team’s removal from the tournament.
“We felt that wasn’t necessary because this was an educational thing,” explained Smith. “No one is going to learn anything by removing children from a game.”
Smith said they wanted the team to go out and play, in order to honour the game, themselves and their name, The Warriors.
The Warriors then took to the field and played with honour and honesty, which impressed Smith, who noted it was one of the best lacrosse games he has seen in years.
Afterwards, Smith and Crowchild both agreed they wanted to recognize Clarkson for his actions. It was decided later on Crowchild would give Clarkson an eagle feather and Smith arranged to gift Clarkson a very special traditional lacrosse stick.
“It kind of mushroomed from there,” said Smith. “I always hear about the bullies. We never really hear about the person that stands up to the bully and that’s what Ethan did.
“I want people to know that Ethan stood up for what he believed in and stood up for the game of lacrosse and what it stands for.”
The wheels were in motion and a week after the incident, members of the Blackfalds Warriors Lacrosse Association, Town officials and community members gathered in Blackfalds for the recognition ceremony.
Clarkson was gifted with the traditional lacrosse stick, a gift from multiple lacrosse associations, Crowchild and other community members.
Then in a serene moment, Crowchild tied the prestigious eagle feather onto Clarkson’s new lacrosse stick.
“The stick is a traditional stick that Ethan can actually play with,” explained Smith. “He deserved to get it because what his actions were.”
For Clarkson, who began playing lacrosse just this past year, the recognition is something he thought was, “Really cool.” He was proud to receive both the eagle feather and traditional stick and said his teammates congratulated him afterwards.
“I went there to show support and unfortunately, this occurred,” Crowchild said of the Canada Day tournament. “But fortunately, it gives us an opportunity to educate ourselves, work together and come together in a good way.”