History is huge for Squamish Nation lacrosse player Aidan Baker.
His great-grandfather Ray Baker, known as the Silver Fox, was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Several other members of his family played alongside Ray with the North Shore Indians, a team that was a phenomenon, playing matches in front of large and loud crowds and contending for national titles. The names of the players have become legendary, the entire 1936 team that made the national final is enshrined in the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
"I was pretty much born with a lacrosse stick in my hands," Aidan Baker says. "It's just a lifestyle. Lacrosse is so big not only in my community but in my family. It's always been the No. 1 sport of my community and my family."
Baker and a group of other young Squamish Nation players are hoping to add their own names to that history when they take part in the first ever U19 World Lacrosse Challenge running Sept. 11-15 in Six Nations, Ont.
The Squamish Nation North Shore Indians will compete against national teams from countries around the world like Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Ireland, Sweden, and, of course, the lacrosse hotbed of the United States. Other teams taking part will represent First Nations groups from across Canada. The tournament is intended to bring together the best young lacrosse players in the world in a format similar to the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. Baker, the 19-year-old captain of the Squamish Nation squad, thinks his sport could use some of the adoration that is showered upon the country's young hockey players.
"(Lacrosse) is not recognized as much as it should be," he says. "It's the national sport of Canada. There've been times when I've asked people what the national sport of Canada is and they always say, 'Oh, it's hockey!' Lacrosse is the thing I'm most passionate about."
Squamish Nation head coach Sam Seward is hoping this tournament will make more people passionate about the sport.
"I'm very excited for our young athletes," he says. "It's once-in-a-lifetime — you're only young once. It's an awesome opportunity."
Seward is part of the Nation's lacrosse lore, having suited up in a world championships back in 1980. His team, an All-Native All-Star squad, lost in the final held in front of a near packed house at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum.
"That was an awesome experience, I'll always remember that," Seward says. "It's the same for the kids — they'll make lifelong memories playing with friends, make new friends and we all get to play this game that we love, our passion."
The team heading to Ontario in a couple of weeks was assembled about a month ago when general manager Stewart Jacobs parlayed his connections with colleagues from Six Nations into an invite to the tournament. A group of Squamish Nation coaches — most of them affiliated with the North Shore Indians, a club that still runs a successful program today — got together to select an all-star squad consisting of a core of players from the Nation as well as some additions from around British Columbia.
"We picked out the best of the best within our community," says Baker. "Every kid on this team is so passionate about this — they just want to win."
The large coaching staff — including assistants Kwakee Baker, Tewanee Baker, Matt Noble and Pete Skye — combine to bring more than a century of lacrosse experience to the team.
"I'm 59 now, I've been in lacrosse for 54 years," says Seward. "We've all won championships.... We're pushing these kids hard, we're practising hard. We run them for two hours Saturday and two hours Sunday. In the end they're getting tired and we're still pushing them. How much do you want it, right? We want it." Nineteen of the 21 players on this team have direct family ties to someone who played on the North Shore Indians team that is in the Hall of Fame. Aidan Baker would love nothing more than to win a world title of his own and add his name into the stories alongside those of his ancestors.
"That would mean the world," he says, adding that he's never won a major championship before. "To be able to win such a championships would just be heartwarming."
In the Squamish Nation lacrosse is known as the Game of the Creator. For Baker, it's much more than a game.
"It's a gift," he says. Seward feels the same way.
"It's a part of us," he says. "All of our families have grown up with lacrosse, especially our North Shore Indians.... We've always played it, it's a very important part of our lives."
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The Squamish Nation is raising funds to help pay for the team's travel and expenses as well as to keep lacrosse programs running on the North Shore. For more information contact Squamish Nation Coun. Chris Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.