Rush forward Jeff Shattler said it means a lot to himself and other First Nations athletes in the league, but he thinks it will mean even more to Indigenous fans who come from across Saskatchewan to support the team.
“It’s great to have that up there as recognition, that we have a flag up there with the Canadian and American flags,” said Shattler, who was named NLL Cup MVP after scoring seven goals and adding six assists in the Rush’s 2-1 series win over the Rochester Knighthawks. “I think that’s amazing for the game and I think it’s going to be amazing for Saskatchewan because I know they have a huge following with the Indigenous people out in the Saskatoon/Regina area.”
“I think it will be beneficial for them because I know a lot of people that travel from far and wide to go watch a game and then when they look up and see the flag it will put a little meaning behind the game.”
The Haudenosaunee people – known as the Iroquois in French and the Six Nations in English – are comprised of six First Nations primarily in New York, Ontario and Quebec: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora peoples. The Haudenosaunee participate as their own team in all international lacrosse events.
As inventors of the sport, lacrosse has spiritual and medicinal qualities in Haudenosaunee tradition and is often called the Creator’s Game.
“I think it’s really important (to fly the flag),” Rush general manager Derek Keenan said. “I think it’s really important that we honour those who created our game and give it to us today. I think it’s a really nice thing for our team to do and I think it’s going to be really good for the communities and for all the players that come through with that background. I think it’s going to be really good for the league.”
SaskTel Centre, the Rush’s home arena, hosted the world junior indoor lacrosse championship from Aug. 8 to 12. The Iroquois team brought the distinctive purple-and-white flag to the event and it was hung in the rafters beside the Canadian and American flags.
After Canada beat the Iroquois 15-10 in the gold-medal game the First Nations team gifted the flag to the arena. The Rush announced on Wednesday that they would continue to fly the flag for all of their home games in the professional league.
Shattler has played for the Iroquois Nationals in several tournaments throughout his career. Although he is an Ojibwe from Ontario’s Wikwemikong First Nation, the Iroquois team welcomes players from different Indigenous backgrounds.
“I think it would be great for the sport (if other NLL teams followed suit),” Shattler said. “I think it would be great to recognize the Aboriginal people and the Creator’s Game and I think it would only benefit the sport of lacrosse.”
The Iroquois flag represents the Hiawatha wampum belt, made of four interlocking white squares with an all-white tree in the middle on a purple field. Each object represents one of the original five nations of the Iroquois confederacy, with the Tuscarora joining after the design of the original belt.
Shattler and teammate Jeremy Thompson, from Onondaga Nation, N.Y., often do outreach to local Indigenous communities and Keenan credits their hard work with the team’s popularity among First Nations people.
“Those two are two of our most popular players and I think that’s because of the Indigenous fanbase we have and the amount of work that’s done in those communities,” Keenan said. “It’s a good partnership and I think it’s awesome we’re going to be flying the flag.”