Traditionally, the sport of lacrosse has been seen by the Mohawk people as a “gift from the creator given to men,” but one all girls high school team is determined to break through traditional barriers in the inspirational and sociologically fascinating documentary Keepers of the Game, the opening night film for this year’s Canadian Sport Film Festival.
Filmmaker Judd Ehrlich travels to Akwesane Mohawk Territory to look at a group of girls from Salmon River High School in Covington, New York (which has 70% indigenous students) in the inaugural year of the school’s female lacrosse programme. Some of the more traditionally minded local residents see the teen girl squad as an affront to Haudenosaunee tradition, and the school (which is a public institution) doesn’t have enough money to fund the team. Parents and students barely come up with the money necessary to sustain the team for 2015, and following a rocky start marred by self-doubt, a war between dreams and ideologies, and lack of experience as a cohesive unit, the girls start to come together en route to a showdown with the school’s biggest rivals.
Keepers of the Game nicely encapsulates the push and pull between tradition and pride that exists within the local First Nations community, while also adeptly underlining how such divisions are a side effect of colonization and marginalization. Tradition might be holding some of these girls back – and some of the negativity they face is hard to watch and hear – but there are greater forces that have held the community at large back for centuries. Ehrlich spends some time with a select number of students that the audience will get to know and love, but Keepers of the Game mostly keeps one eye on the field and the other on larger issues. These girls have plenty of things happening on and off the field, but Ehrlich makes it known that their fight on the field is bigger than their personal battles. It’s the Friday Night Lights of lacrosse movies.