Origins & Connections to Sport

Origins & Connections to Sport

Very few individuals can say that the sport they participate in represents a significant part of their family history and heritage unless you are Ross Powless. The Powless family of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario has had the sport of lacrosse in their family for many generations. It was a large part of their heritage and Mohawk identity. Like the talented Powless men before him, Ross, too, dedicated his life to the game.

Ross Powless’ amazing career in lacrosse began as a youngster grabbing a stick at intermission in games in which his dad and uncles played. At eight years of age, this abruptly ended when he was taken from his home, parents, and family members, and forced to live in a Residential School for the next five years of his life, where he was punished for practicing his language and culture. In this setting, Ross lost all contact with his family, time with his father, and any access to the game of lacrosse. Although this institution deprived Ross of five valuable years to establish a foundation and play in the sport he loved, he quickly made up for lost time and became a star player.

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Tom Longboat medallion awarded to Ross Powless. He won the regional Tom Longboat Award in 1951 and 1952.
Courtesy of the Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition, 1984.30.3

One of the lacrosse sticks used by Ross Powless over his decades-long career.
Currently on loan from the Gaylord Powless family to the Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition

He developed his talent as an athlete through hours of hard work and unyielding determination, and was known as the player you wanted on your team. Though he was a fierce competitor, he had a reputation of always playing the game fairly and with integrity. As a Mohawk athlete, Ross had to withstand tremendous racism from fans and players during games played in other communities. He overcame this challenge by being the best player that he could be, and the highest-scoring athlete. During his athletic career, he received just about every honour available to a lacrosse player.

The 1951 Mann Cup Champions – the Peterborough Timbermen. Ross Powless is in the back row fifth from the left.
Courtesy of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Following his extraordinary career as a player, Ross turned his attention to coaching and achieved the same level of success. As a coach, he won three national championships at different levels. He is fondly remembered by the many players who competed under his guidance and direction. This is illustrated by Lacrosse Hall of Famer, Roger Smith who said, “Ross is a man of tremendous talent and knowledge of the game which he readily shares with the athletes around him, making them better for it.”

Others stated, “…as athletes; we will never forget his infectious passion and love for the game which always served to motivate us.” One of his most memorable and valued coaching experiences included winning the North American Indian Lacrosse Tournament, where six of his sons played on the team. Competing in the sport he loved and sharing this special moment with family was one of the greatest thrills of his life.

After his retirement, Ross Powless continued coaching and had the opportunity to coach six of his sons to a North American Indian Lacrosse Championship in 1974.
Courtesy of the Powless family

Whether it be as an athlete or coach, there has not been a greater ambassador for lacrosse than Ross Powless. Highly disciplined and intensely fair, he raised the game’s profile, built lasting friendships, and earned peoples’ respect wherever he played and coached. He is credited for bringing excitement and interest back to one of Canada’s national sports and creating enthusiasm for it, not only in his community but across the entire country. He would often organize equipment drives to provide the equipment required by youth to participate in lacrosse. In short, he would do whatever it took to help the people around him so they might achieve great things.

Whether it be as an athlete, coach, or ambassador for the sport, Ross Powless continually broke down barriers for Indigenous Peoples with exemplary sportsmanship, athleticism, coaching, and organizational leadership. He has been an outstanding champion and role model, both on and off the field of play, and will forever be remembered as one of the founding fathers of modern lacrosse in Canada. This is his outstanding legacy.

Ross Powless and his wife Wilma with thirteen of their children at their 50th wedding anniversary. Courtesy of the Powless family

He has been an outstanding champion and role model, both on and off the field of play, and will forever be remembered as one of the founding fathers of modern lacrosse in Canada. This is his outstanding legacy.