Traditional Game Bridges the Past and Future

Table of Contents


Reflecting on his three decades of coaching Aboriginal lacrosse teams in BC's Lower Mainland, Sam Seward relates a bittersweet story. Well known and respected as a community leader within North Vancouver's Squamish Nation, Seward was preparing to put a team from the North Shore Minor Lacrosse Association through its paces, when he was approached by a mother who said her 13-year-old son was unhappy and wanted to quit the team.

Without hesitation, Seward walked over to where the young player from the Squamish Nation was sitting, noticeably upset and crying. It took only a few seconds for Seward to uncover the root of the youth's trouble.

"My stick is so old," he said.

Seward noticed that the stick was in sad shape, its mesh tattered and torn to the point that it would be difficult to carry the ball, let alone pass or shoot. He also knew from experience that the stick might have provoked the odd hurtful jibe from kids equipped with comparatively newer models. A compassionate man with a big heart, Seward took the boy's stick into the dressing room, removed the old mesh and replaced it with a new one from the trunk of his car.

Seeing the relieved look on the youth's face, Seward asked him, "do you love the game?"


"Do you still want to quit?"


In characteristically humble fashion, Seward explains that the boy is now a promising 16-year-old with the Burnaby Minor Lacrosse Association's Intermediate 'A' team.

No doubt he has hundreds of similar stories. And no doubt they would all support his fundamental belief that the game of lacrosse - one invented centuries ago by Aboriginal people as a means of settling differences - is a superb tool to help Aboriginal youth discover active living, connect with their ancestral heritage and develop self confidence.

Not surprisingly, back in 2005 when the BC Lacrosse Association (BCLA) developed a program to increase and sustain participation levels among Aboriginal youth, they turned to Seward for help.

"With the grant from 2010 Legacies Now, we were able to work with the Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Association to identify three respected coaches from First Nations communities to become regional coaches and conduct coach and athlete development programs within their own communities," explained Rochelle Winterton, executive director of the BC Lacrosse Association.

When the BCLA presented the offer to become one of the three regional coaches, Seward jumped at it, as did Jim Point of Kelowna's Westbank Nation and Fred Wilson of Vancouver Island's Cowichan Tribes.

Between 2005 and 2007, the trio visited 18 schools and seven recreation centres, where they conducted multiple sessions which were comprised of an introduction to the game and its origins, including traditional singing and storytelling, as well as the fundamentals of passing, catching and shooting. They also provided equipment and teacher instruction manuals so 1,539 boys and girls who took part could continue to play.

In order to sustain higher participation numbers in the future, they also conducted certification clinics for adults interested in coaching or officiating. As a result, a total of 31 community volunteers from various regions have become registered Aboriginal Certified Coaches and 16 have become Aboriginal Certified Referees.

Though the three-year program has officially concluded, Seward continues to serve as a coaching clinician, in addition to his tireless hours of volunteer coaching.

"I love the game and it was special to have this opportunity to help so many young people and coaches in our community to learn more about it," says Seward, winner of the Aboriginal Sport Circle's 2006 Coach of the Year Award.

Although it's still too early to tell how many of the 1,539 kids who picked up a stick for the first time will begin to play organized lacrosse, what appears certain is there is now considerably more opportunity for them to do so. Seward's hope is that most will have found a fun and healthy activity, and that at least a few will go on to play the game at an elite level, or even better, obtain an athletic scholarship to attend a university or college.

"I've always told the kids to not be afraid to leave their comfort zone," he says. "Go away and play the game to the best of your ability, get an education and then come back. We'll still be here."


The BC Sport Participation Program aims to increase sport participation in community and school-based sports, while also increasing participation by seniors and people with disabilities. The program helps provincial and multi-sport organizations extend their community reach and improve the quality of sport delivery. The program is funded by the Province of British Columbia and Sport Canada.