An all-Indigenous broomball team from Quebec has won the championship at the Syracuse CanAm broomball tournament in New York.
Now the AlgonCrees want to take their talent further: to the World Championships in Paris, France.
"I had this vision of coming up with our own Indigenous team," said team captain Lorrain Nottaway, who is Algonquin from Barriere Lake. "There's a lot of potential within our region"
The team name represents Algonquin and Cree people from across Quebec coming together to compete in high level broomball. The Syracuse event Jan. 19-21, marked the first time the AlgonCrees competed together in a tournament.
"One of the highlights was definitely our final game," said Nottaway.
Algonquin and Crees from all across Que, create team to compete in national broomball tournaments. (submitted by Lorrain Nottaway)
"We were down two points in the last two minutes, and we managed to catch up and bring it to overtime."
They recorded four wins and one loss to become champions in the women's category.
Many team members are mothers with full-time jobs or students from Waskaganish, Pikogan and several other communities.
Amanda Mayappo-Neeposh, who is Cree from Waswanipi, plays defence.
An emotional game for more than one reason
"We've always talked about wanting to take an Indigenous team to one of these big tournaments, especially in the USA," said Mayappo-Neeposh.
It was an emotional game for her not just because it was an all-Indigenous team winning the championship.
The AlgonCrees wore a blue, light blue and pink ribbon on their jerseys that represents Cree leukoencephalopathy (CLE) in honour of Mayappo-Neeposh's baby, Ottilia, who passed away last October.
CLE is an incurable genetic disease that affects a Cree infant's brain development. Babies usually pass away within a few weeks or months of their birth, according to the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.
Algonquin and Cree players from all across Quebec created a team to compete in national broomball tournaments (submitted by Lorrain Nottaway)
"When I first saw the jerseys, I felt really emotional," said Mayappo-Neeposh. "I wanted to cry. It was for my daughter and other children that passed away with this disease."
"It meant a lot to have that ribbon on my jersey to try to spread awareness of the disease," she added.
Mayappo-Neeposh's teammates, most of whom are also mothers, showed their support.
"She loves the sport. She loved her baby. Two things she's passionate about. It's an honourable feeling knowing it's our friend, our teammate," said Nottaway.
Untapped talent pool
The team worked hard at fundraising to make it to New York.
"I've actually been trying to get the women's team to come down from the [Quebec] area for a few years now," said Kevin Perrigo, who is the tournament director and has been involved in the tournament for over 30 years.
He's watched the sport grow over those years.
"I've been watching their [Indigenous] tournaments now for the last handful of years because they show them online. The talent pool is untapped," he said, adding that the AlgongCrees were more physical on the ice, which benefited their game wins.
The AlgonCrees celebrate a win. (submitted by Amanda Mayappo-Neeposh)
The AlgonCrees overcame some setbacks in their first few plays. They learned that American broomball rules are different from Canadian rules.
Americans have a concept known as the "floating blue line," whereby once an attacking player crosses the blue line, the red line becomes the off-side and icing marker. The blue line is then no longer considered the off-side or icing marker.
"They were scoring a lot of goals because they figured it out fairly quick," said Perrigo, adding that many people came to watch their games and were friendly to talk to off the ice.
The AlgonCrees plan to play in more provincial tournaments together.
Amanda Mayappo-Neeposh received new team jerseys just a few days before the Syracuse CanAm Broomball Tournament. (submitted by Amanda Mayappo-Neeposh)
"Some people [on Facebook] thought they can just run around us because they are a little faster, but we have a strong team," said Nottaway.
The AlgonCrees want to compete at the 2024 International Federation of Broomball Associations (IFBA) World Broomball Championships in Paris this October.
"I've competed in the world championship twice in my broomball career but never with an all-Indigenous team," said Mayappo-Neeposh. "And I'm really, really excited for that,"