Indigenous Success Stories

Sports and Reconciliation (87-91)

Lacrosse all-star Gaylord Powless inducted into North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame

January 19, 2024

Six Nations lacrosse star died in 2001

Lax Player - older
Gaylord Powless, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) lacrosse player from Six Nations of the Grand River, will be inducted this year into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame. (Delby Powless Sr.)

CBC Indigenous: Gaylene Powless knew her dad Gaylord Powless was pretty good at lacrosse and he coached here and there, but she realized he was an all-star when one day, he pulled out his status card at a checkout line and incited a small frenzy.

She was just eight that day — the youngest of his three children and his namesake — but she still recalls her father taking his hat off, signing it and handing it to a fan.

In March, the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) lacrosse player from Six Nations of the Grand River and other prominent Indigenous athletes will be inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame.

“It’s a pretty proud moment. [I’m] pretty honoured and and humbled that people are still recognizing him even though he’s been gone since 2001,” Gaylene said.  “Kids now wouldn’t know to idolize him or know him, but their parents would and their grandparents would.”

Gaylord, born in 1946, won the Tom Longboat Award at 17 as the best Indigenous athlete in Canada. A few years later he was recruited by the Oshawa Green Gaels, a junior men’s box lacrosse team in Oshawa, Ont., and was MVP in 1964 and again in 1967.

He began playing professionally for the Rochester Chiefs in New York state. In 1968 Gaylord was a star player for the Detroit Olympics of the National Lacrosse Association, scoring 63 goals in the season, nearly double that of the next highest scoring player. Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame noted that stat when it inducted Gaylord into its ranks in 2017.

Backhand signature move

Gaylord’s cousin and fellow lacrosse player, Delby Powless Sr., said Gaylord didn’t start playing minor lacrosse until he was 18 when was recruited to Oshawa, because they didn’t have that calibre of team in Six Nations at the time.

As a trailblazer for up-and-coming lacrosse players in his community, Delby said Gaylord dealt with racism in the game. “He took a lot of abuse and he put up with it because he wanted to play,” Delby said. He said Gaylord never let that hold him back and that he looked up to him because of it. 

Delby said he saw Gaylord outside his home once “taking backhands” — one of Gaylord’s signature moves, where a player shoots over their shoulder without looking, so their opponent is unaware of the ball’s intended direction.

“He shot 10 times at the hole in the top corner of the board that he had there, set up on the net, and he put eight out of 10 in there on the backhand,” Delby said. 

Man at lax net, 1960s black and white photo
Powless played for teams including Oshawa, Rochester and Detroit. (Gail Ayres)

Delby said he started working on his own backhands right away; eventually they became a huge part of his game. 

Delby said Gaylord’s incredible peripheral vision made it seem like he knew where opponents were at all times. “He could see things that were almost behind him,” said his cousin.

Delby said Gaylord wore braces on his knees, not because he needed them, but because players would come after him and try to take him out but would draw penalties instead.

It wasn’t until Six Nations built its lacrosse arena and started winning more championships “that our guys got exposure and were able to go on and play in the [National Lacrosse League],” said Delby.

Gaylene said a week or two before her father died of cancer in 2001 at 54, he learned the arena in Six Nations would be named for him. “My dad just gave the thumbs up,” she said.

Ceremony in March

The North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame is three years old and inducts about 100 athletes a year — including those still active in their careers.  Gaylord Powless joins his father Ross as an inductee.

“They have both been instrumental with getting the modern lacrosse game going in their respective communities and extending it into professional ranks,” said Dan Ninham, who is Oneida, Wolf Clan and co-director of the hall of fame.

Other athletes being inducted this year are lacrosse players Alfie Jacques, Claudia Jimerson and Brett Bucktooth and hockey players Ted, Jordan and Brandon Nolan.

The ceremony honouring this year’s inductees will be in Green Bay, Wis., in March. 


Candace Maracle, Reporter

Candace Maracle is Wolf Clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a laureate of The Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her latest film, a micro short, Lyed Corn with Ash (Wa’kenenhstóhare’) is completely in the Kanien’kéha language.