Jeff Shattler came into the National Lacrosse League as a young Ojibwe-Inuit man with no expectations; he just wanted to excel at the Creator’s Game his ancestors had gifted him. He left the league on a mission to spread awareness and knowledge of that game (and its roots) to all the Indigenous kids he would have the privilege to coach.
Unlike many Indigenous youths in the province of Ontario, Shattler grew up in Toronto, Canada. Shattler may not have grown up on a reservation, but he still did face several challenges. Yet, despite the hardships that many Indigenous youth face growing up, often they share a common trait: the love of lacrosse. Having said that, while hockey also played a pivotal role in Shattler’s younger athletic years, he always tried to practice the sport that connected him most with his roots.
In his early adult years, Shattler had earned a shot on one of the biggest stages to showcase his talents at the professional level – it was in 2005 when he was drafted by the Buffalo Bandits with the 10th overall selection. In his career, he would primarily play for the Calgary Roughnecks and then the Saskatchewan Rush for over a dozen years between the two.
From 2005-2022, Shattler was an absolute menace with multiple skill sets in the NLL. Having played out the back door, in transition, and on offense throughout various points in his career, there were many ways he could get the better of the opposition both on and off the ball.
First and foremost, he worked tirelessly as a teammate to earn two NLL championships (2009 with the Roughnecks and 2018 with the Rush). But, not to be overlooked, he personally amassed over 850 points and over 1,350 loose balls picked up, among many other achievements in his professional career including the 2011 MVP award.
Yet, far beyond learning how talented of an elite lacrosse player he could become and finding out how many trophies he could fit on his bookshelves, Shattler grew to love this game far more than he could’ve imagined because of how it changed his life off the floor.
“It’s been an honor,” Shattler said. “Lacrosse has given me so much. It’s given me my business, it’s given me my family, and it’s given me memories of traveling, meeting people, and playing across the world. It’s given me everything.”
Having been so deeply blessed by all that the game had given him over the years, there was never a doubt about what the future had in store for one of the most extraordinary Indigenous NLL talents.
If Shattler was lucky enough to have found such great success playing professional lacrosse (if you ask some, there was more skill than luck involved), why couldn’t the future generations of Indigenous youth have that opportunity as well?
“Sports are a great way to connect with kids,” Shattler said. “Showing the kids of the First Nations community that sports can help in life. There will always be struggles, but I want to give these kids an opportunity to see me and show them it can be done. If you believe in yourself, you can succeed in whatever goal you may have.”
This may seem like a difficult task, but Shattler is devoted to the cause and to the process.
With his career nearing its end by the 2018-19 NLL season, Shattler officially started up Shattler Lacrosse Academy, a youth lacrosse initiative based in Saskatchewan, with the intent to spread the game to as many kids as possible while teaching them about the Indigenous roots and history.
Geographically, there may not be a better place in Canada to have started this program as nearly 17% of the province’s population is Indigenous, which is the second-highest among all of Canada’s provinces, only behind Manitoba.
Shattler has significant aspirations for lacrosse in Saskatchewan. The former NLL star is preparing to coach his kids this February at the 2023 USBOXLA Winter Nationals in Phoenix, Arizona. Even grander than that, Shattler has been in talks with 23 Indigenous tribes throughout Saskatchewan in an attempt to form a “Nations Cup” that would highlight some of the best up-and-coming indigenous talents in the province. This is aside from all the work Shattler has done, and will continue to do, with each of the 74 First Nations tribes in Saskatchewan.
While he was playing in the NLL, there was never a doubt in anyone’s mind that Shattler loved playing lacrosse. That can be equally said about his passion of teaching the game and its history to Indigenous youth. It’s hard to find a moment when he isn’t on the road traveling to the next school or reservation or talking kids through a drill at one of his practices. His life is still deeply embedded in this game because so is his heart.
“I’m really enjoying the work I do,” Shattler said. “You hear it all the time, but if you love your work, you don’t work a day in your life, and I feel like that is something I am grateful for. I came to a province where there was a need for lacrosse, a big need for it, and that’s why I’ve taken that opportunity upon myself to be a teacher of the game and a coach of the game. I’m grateful I still get to do that even after retiring.”