On Friday, Nov. 3 at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, Toquaht First Nation Phil Mack captained Team Canada’s rugby squad in an international match against the Maori All Blacks.
The sporting event made history at the gates for Rugby Canada, drawing a record crowd of 29,480.
Dozens of Mack’s family and friends attended the game, including his mom, Jeanine Nahas, who lives in Victoria.
“He comes out a giant,” said Nahas of the 5′ 7″ scrum half.
“He put Toquaht on the map. People say, ‘Toquaht, I know that name.’ Whereas nobody heard of us before.”
“To be named captain of the sevens and the fifteens, it’s the highest honour in the rugby world. I think Phil recognizes that and is very touched and honoured as well to serve his country that way, and to represent one of the smallest tribes on Vancouver Island,” she said.
During halftime, members of the Musqueam tribe near Squamish performed a traditional tribal dance choreographed alongside members of the Maori who performed the famous haka war dance.
“They were doing their dances for each other. It was like a gift exchange,” Nahas said, adding that she was disappointed with how spectators acted during the performance.
“If you can stop talking, go off your phone, and direct your attention while the national anthem is playing, you can do the same during a cultural event or performance…It was so noisy that I was mute to what they were doing. You couldn’t hear the powerfulness of it because it was overpowered by people talking.”
Mack’s older sister, Leah, practices law in Victoria for a firm that works exclusively for First Nations governments and organizations.
“I think it was neat for the Canadians to see how much culture the Maori All Blacks bring with their team,” Leah said.
“Yes, they are there for rugby, but they also have a cultural advisor who knows nothing about rugby and is just there for the cultural aspect.”
At a reception after the match, Leah told the Westerly that Phil presented Ash Dixon, the captain of the Maori All Blacks, with an eagle feather from Toquaht territory as a gesture of respect and honour.
The Maori All Blacks are unique from the New Zealand All Blacks. To be named to the Maori team, players must prove their Maori heritage.
“New Zealand is a bit of a leader in reconciliation. They did bring with them almost the equivalent of an elder advising their team,” said Leah. “I see a lot of opportunity to incorporate indigenous culture into Rugby Canada and sport. And, the importance of sport for our indigenous youth.”
“He’s seen the impact [sport] can have in the community. It’s something that he’s latched onto and taken it so far,” she said.
Anyone interested in learning more is encouraged to visit: firstnationsrugby.com.