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Mann Cup 2016 Six Nations Chiefs Maple Ridge Burrards Photo: Darryl Smart

Six Nations Chiefs in Crisis: Why the Community Must Help

The Six Nations Chiefs need your help.

When we talk about the best dynasties in sports, many people think of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. During their era, the Bulls won six titles, including two three-peats. It’s a feat that one of their closest competitors, the Steph Curry-led Golden State Warriors, failed to accomplish. 

In fact, the three-peat is an incredibly rare feat. Only three franchises have ever accomplished it in the NBA. That drops to two in the MLB. Only one in the NFL, and that was before the Super Bowl era. The NHL has three. One in the WNBA. One in the NLL, with the Rochester Knighthawks having accomplished the feat once.

I say this because the idea that any franchise capable of a three-peat being at risk of collapse seems like an idea that should be unfathomable. Despite the financial hardships brought on by COVID-19, elite sports franchises just survive anything…until they don’t. See, there’s another dynasty in lacrosse that’s accomplished the three-peat, and they’re at risk.

The Six Nations Chiefs, winners of six Mann Cups since their introduction to Major Series Lacrosse back in 1993, including their 1994-1996 three-peat, are one of the best franchises in lacrosse. In their 27-year history as a franchise, the Chiefs have made the finals more times (10) than they’ve missed the playoffs (6). In fact, if you happen to have been born in ‘93, the Six Nations Chiefs have made the Mann Cup final in just over 37% of your entire life. That’s only a few percentage points lower than the Los Angeles Lakers, who have made the Finals 32 times. 

More importantly, the Chiefs have been an incredible showcase of talent, particularly Native talent, since their founding. Just take a look at the most recent Chiefs’ roster. We’re talking about a squad that could arguably compete for an NLL title and still have room to compete for a field championship: 

Lyle and Jeremy Thompson. Dillon Ward. Chris Cloutier. Dan Coates. Dhane Smith. Cody Jamison. Brendan Bomberry. Tehoka Nanticoke. Ian Mackay. Tyson Bell. Tyson Bomberry. Randy Staats. Hell, they’ve even got reigning NLL MVP Shayne Jackson.

This is, in a lot of senses of the word, the team many might point to when we talk about “your favorite team’s favorite team”. 

So, when the Chiefs announced that 2021 might be their final season as a franchise, it was time to panic. This is the team that a kid like Tehoka dreamed of playing for since childhood. This is the team that Brendan Bomberry listed as part of every Six Nations player’s goals for their career. This is, to a certain extent, the only truly indigenous franchise in the sport, a beacon of pride for the creators of lacrosse that routinely reminds the rest of the lacrosse community why a community of fewer than 150,000 people (smaller than my hometown of Eugene, Oregon) still manages to put together a top-three squad in the world every time international competition comes around. The Chiefs might feature Canadians as well, but this has always been a franchise by the Iroquois, for the Iroquois. To lose it would not only be to lose one of the best, most consistently successful franchises in all of lacrosse, but to lose a real bastion of the lacrosse community. 

The biggest hurdle facing the Chiefs? They cite a lack of fan support, which has only been made all the more difficult by the current pandemic. COVID-19 has been a huge blow to attendance for everyone. But to say that there’s a lack of fans for this organization seems entirely incorrect. Not that I intend to say in any way that the team is misleading anyone, but rather that the lack of fans in the stands seems at odds with the amount of Chiefs love out there in the lacrosse community. I’ve streamed SN games from Oregon in the past. Hell, just listing off the names of their 2019 roster should be plenty to get lacrosse fans across the world interested. This is a team with true NLL talent, a (mostly) homegrown squad of some of the world’s brightest stars.

One of the challenges facing the Chiefs, and the MSL writ large, is the delayed NLL season. With the NLL presuming to start in April, there’s some crossover between the two seasons that could hurt the MSL. As the Chiefs’ article says, they’ll need to do some brainstorming in the MSL to counter the potential overlap. 

But I’m hoping to cast the net wider. Look, I’m just a washed up lax bro with blog access. If I had the money, or the mental capacity, to save the Chiefs myself, I would do so. I don’t. So, instead, I’m reaching out to my fellow regular lacrosse community members. The Six Nations Chiefs are one of the most influential, successful, and downright coolest lacrosse organizations out there. This is a franchise that takes multiple NLL MVPs and pairs them with one set of colors so proudly representing the heritage of this game isn’t something we can just take for granted.

It also isn’t something we should just start mourning before the last dirt has been thrown on the grave. Let’s step up.

To Duane Jacobs, himself a legend in Six Nations history as one of the OG Chiefs, and the rest of the SNC board, I say this: the lacrosse community sees you, and we hear your struggle. I’m not sure what we can do to help, but we want to. I might not be able to use a season ticket from across the continent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see this team continue to succeed. I very much doubt I’m alone. Whether it’s drawing attention to find new sponsors, attempting to crowdsource funding, finding a way for individuals to help out, or just trying to organize the continent’s most elaborate club lax bake sale, I want to make sure that, by the time 2022 rolls around and things are hopefully back to normal, that normal includes a 37% chance that I’ll be watching the Chiefs in the Mann Cup. 

For now, let’s get the word out there. At worst, we’ll enlighten a lot of the more field-oriented (read: American) lacrosse community about a sick franchise and hopefully inspire some people to go seeking out highlights. Hopefully we can connect the right people to this cause and find a way to keep watching. 

I would like to continue living in a world where I can watch three MVPs share an O shift. But also, if the lacrosse community can create so much attention and pressure that we can convince an international governing sports body to allow the Iroquois into The World Games, we can do this. Spread the word. Keep the spirit of the creator’s game alive. Let’s #SaveTheChiefs.

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