Nick Sakiewicz ended his first day in Six Nations by sampling some of the local cuisine. The National Lacrosse League Commissioner broke bread with Rochester Knighthawks Owner Curt Styres, members of the Six Nations community and Knighthawks front office personnel.
On Wednesday evening, in the banquet hall of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, Sakiewicz sampled the “Six Nations Soul Food,” as he called it. The buffet table was outfitted with varieties of corn soup, elk, traditional corn bread, scones and strawberry juice. The dinner conversation was about the Creator’s Game as Leroy “Jock” Hill, Cayuga sub-chief and faith keeper, traced the roots of lacrosse back to the creation story.
“The game was given to us as a life lesson to demonstrate teamwork and cooperation. In our traditional game, it’s about discipline,” he said. “Our belief is that we do everything we can because we’re entertaining the Creator, and that’s his game we are playing.” “Jock” Hill, who has been training for four decades as a faith keeper, sat next to Sakiewicz and the two bantered back-and-forth like old friends, as they laughed and shared stories.
“It’s an interaction and a sharing,” said Hill. “He was very interested in our cultural ties to it. We just fed off one another. It was really pleasing to do that, especially with a receptive audience.”
“He is an encyclopedia of lacrosse and talked about the symbolism of the earth, and the creation of earth and how it ties to a sport,” said Sakiewicz. “I don’t think there is any sport invented by man that compares to this. There are sports that ancient people played, but not the way this is done. It’s really amazing.”
Sakiewicz got his fill of Six Nations during his guided tour with Styres, which included a walk-through at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena that the Knighthawks owner built and opened in 2004. The Commissioner’s day-long itinerary was replete with cultural and historic stops throughout the southern Ontario reserve.
“I wanted to show him so much and I think I just touched the tip of the iceberg with him,” said Styres. “There is so much to see, so much to do. I think we filled his pockets up with some things he can use down the road.”
Sakiewicz began his tour with an introduction to Six Nations elected Chief Ava Hill at the Six Nations Council House. She presented the Commissioner with a pair of moccasins, which he said he will proudly hang in his office alongside the beautiful painting he received from Onondaga Chief and artist Arnold Jacobs.
The NLL Commissioner spent a good portion of the morning at the Two Turtle Art Gallery, where he reviewed sculptures, painting and drawings produced by Jacobs. It was honor for Jacobs to host the NLL Commissioner and have dinner with him
later that evening.
“It was great. He is a young guy who just got introduced to (lacrosse) in the past year,” said Jacobs. “He was really impressed with the fastest game on two feet.”
Sakiewicz, who was appointed NLL Commissioner on Jan. 9th, said he is completing the discovery phase of his job. The new boss has made it a priority to visit all nine NLL teams. It’s on his latest stop, however, that will allow Sakiewicz to bring more of a historical perspective to the 30-year professional indoor lacrosse league.
“There is a lot of untold history here that needs to be told. There’s a lot of deep tradition and symbolism. Just look at this painting, ‘Then and Now – Same Passion,’ you are talking about thousands of years,” he said as he pointed to the gift he received from Arnold Jacobs. “That story needs to be brought to the forefront.
“I think I said this in my first press conference, ‘We as a sport need to lock arms and come together to grow an incredible game. If we don’t, then shame on us. The biggest threat to box lacrosse is ourselves in not unlocking the greatness of this game.’”
During the tour, Sakiewicz also accompanied his host to the Gaylord Powless Arena, the famous Burger Barn eatery for lunch, and the Turtle Island News. Along the way, Styres introduced the Commissioner to people who are helping keep the history of a sport and a culture alive in Six Nations.
“It’s always good to have someone take the time to see the origins of the Creator’s Game,” said Styres. “I think it can be really enlightening when you can see things firsthand and talk to the people of the Haudenosaunee. You have to be there to experience it. Tradition goes a long way. A recipe for success can be done in multiple ways. If you know the foundation of the game, you can build from there.”
During his first day in Six Nations, Sakiewicz saw the passion of Jacobs and learned about the artist’s goal of sharing the nature-based culture with future generations. He also met Curt’s mother, Vera, and Geronimo Henry, and listened to them as he sat in the Woodland Cultural Centre Brantford. It was the building where they once attended a government-sponsored residential school. He was brought to tears as he listened to the stories of a school system once established to “assimilate Aboriginal children into Euro-Canadian culture.”
The trip allowed Sakiewicz to spend some more time with Curt Styres, a person who he respects and admires. Styres understands the roots and possibilities of the sports, which he believes go hand-and-hand in growing lacrosse. Styres, who has owned the Knighthawks since 2008, has incorporated the history of the sport into his everyday business in Rochester. From the nine clans of the Iroquois that adorn the team’s jerseys, to the pregame smoke dancers, to the team’s annual First Nations Night, Styres has used the history of the game as the base to build his championship-caliber organization.
“When he invited me to visit, I took him right up on it because I could tell when I first met him that he has a deep love, respect and passion,” said Sakiewicz. “It goes beyond sports team ownership. Frankly, the world needs to know more about Curt Styres and what he brings to professional sports. I have met a lot of owners in pro sports, and in different sports in my 20 years, and he is one of a kind. I am honored to be here and honored to have him as an owner in our league.”
Sakiewicz, who will be in Calgary this weekend, will take with him the knowledge of the people he met and the keepsakes he was presented during his visit.
“It was extraordinary and a day I will never forget,” said Sakiewicz. “It was awesome because not only did I learn about lacrosse, I learned about a culture, a philosophy, symbolism and, candidly, a culture and a people who we can learn an awful lot from.”
Story and photo by Knighthawks.com.