For lacrosse star Mekwan Tulpin, sport has been a bridge connecting the two distinct cultures that make up her multi-ethnic identity.
Proudly half-Mushkegowuk Cree and half-Belgian, she says she grew up feeling disconnected from both cultures living in Southern Ontario where she hardly spoke her mother’s tongue, Cree, and was an ocean away from her father’s European homeland. It was sport that brought everything full circle.
“As an athlete being half-Cree I wanted to learn more about the Indigenous side of the game,” said the 29-year-old who played competitive basketball, volleyball and softball before seriously picking up the traditionally Indigenous game at age 21. “I was working as an instructor to the Iroquois lacrosse program, which gave me more understanding about Cree.
“Then I had the opportunity to play at the European Lacrosse Championships in 2013 where I got to compete in Belgium. I never expected to ever go to where my dad is from. I wanted to connect more to the Indigenous of side of the game but it actually brought me closer to my European roots as well.”
She also credits sport with opening her up to the culturally rich communities that surround her.
“I get to travel and meet diverse people and have those different experiences,” said Tulpin. “It’s made me proud to be of mixed descent.”
The 29-year-old lacrosse midfielder twice represented team Ontario at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) as a youth playing basketball in 2002 and 2006. In more recent years she’s worked with the Games as a lacrosse coach and sports manager.
She’s has also had the opportunity to be a part of history competing in the first ever Canadian female box lacrosse nationals in 2015 when the senior women’s level was introduced—something she and her late teammate Becky Smith, who died tragically in 2012, hoped would happen for a long time.
“They only had younger age categories so our girl’s teams didn’t have opportunities to compete once they passed junior age,” said Tulpin. “That was a dream I shared with [Smith] who passed away before the Canadian nationals happened for senior women’s lacrosse.
“She was really instrumental in my development and offered her own time to play catch with me. I never got to share the dream with her but the fact that we could do it meant a lot.”
With years of experience now under her belt, Tulpin’s ultimate dream will come true this summer as she will be representing the Canadian national team for the first time at the 2017 FIL Women’s World Cup of lacrosse in England.
“I’ve always dreamt of being on a national team,” Tulpin said. “So now that’s becoming a reality.”
A bitter sweet reality she says as it means she will not be in Toronto to watch Indigenous youth from across her home province of Ontario compete at the Toronto 2017 NAIG. Though she won’t be there in person she hopes her success will inspire youths to pursue their dreams, and that the Games will show North American audiences what Indigenous youth have to offer.
“My hope for these Games is for people to see how vibrant, confident and amazing our people are,” Tulpin said. “The North American Indigenous Games are an opportunity to see our people in that strength. I think a lot of time we can be portrayed with different stereotypes but there are a lot of positive things going on. Showing the general population more of that is going to make an impact.”