CFL Alumni Association creates new Indigenous Champions Award


Despite being drafted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Justin Shakell has never played a game in the Canadian Football League (CFL) or any other professional tour.

Yet Shakell, a 41-year-old member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, is one of the first recipients of a new award that will be presented each year by the Canadian Football League Alumni Association (CFLAA).

The association created the CFLAA Indigenous Champion Award. This new distinction is an extension of the Diversity is the strength of the CFL and its truth and reconciliation initiatives.

Shakell is currently the head coach of the Quinte Skyhawks, a senior varsity team participating in the Ontario Football Conference.

Shakell also works as a grade 7 teacher at Quinte Mohawk School located in the Mohawk Territory of Tyendinaga.

“You want to be a positive role model,” Shakell said. “You want to point the kids in the right direction. I hope I do this with my teaching and coaching.

Shakell, a former Canadian star at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., Is one of the first two recipients of the Indigenous Champion Award.

The other recipient is Six Nations member Jim Styres, who has been successful as a player and coach. Styres passed away in 2018 and will be recognized posthumously at the Gray Cup Legends Luncheon, which will be held in Hamilton on December 10.

Lunch is part of this year’s Gray Cup festivities. The CFL Championship final will take place two days later on December 12 in Hamilton.

The CFLAA has been presenting its Alumni of the Year award for some time now. Shakell is happy to see that the association has added its new Indigenous award.

“I think it’s a good thing that they’re taking a leadership role and paying attention to it,” he said.

The idea of ​​creating the Indigenous award surfaced after John Macdonald, a former Six Nations Tiger-Cats player, was added to a CFLAA committee.

Macdonald is the one who suggested the creation of the award.

“I think this is a step towards recognizing Indigenous peoples in football,” said Macdonald, who currently teaches English and Indigenous Studies at Pauline Johnson Collegiate & Vocational School in Brantford.

Macdonald is also the head coach of the football program at the Brantford School.

CFLAA officials will primarily seek to honor Indigenous people with their new award.

Those who will be considered for the award are any former CFL player of Indigenous ancestry who has made or is making a key contribution to football or his community.

An Indigenous coach who supports minor football will also be considered.

Non-Indigenous coaches may also be nominated for the award provided they have made or are still having a positive impact on hard-working Indigenous football players at all levels.

“It covers a lot of areas,” Macdonald said of the award.

Eight people were nominated for this year’s award. They were all from southern Ontario as CFLAA officials are keen to have nominees each year from the region where the Gray Cup will be held that year.

Jason Riley, CFLAA board chairman, said details of the Indigenous award were quickly worked out.

“It all happened in a few months,” he said. “We didn’t even know four months ago if we would have a Gray Cup this year because of COVID. ”

The pandemic had forced the cancellation of the entire 2020 CFL campaign.

Riley said the CFLAA was looking for ways to support the CFL’s reconciliation strategy. And even after Macdonald suggested creating the Indigenous Prize, Riley said he’s not sure how quickly things could happen.

“We initially thought we wouldn’t be able to present this until next year,” said Riley, adding that Macdonald deserves kudos for speeding up the process. “He’s been instrumental in getting it all started now. ”

Riley added that the news of the Indigenous Champion’s Award had been extremely well received.

“We have had an incredibly positive response to this award,” he said.

Shakell began his own career on the grill in 1992 when he joined the Belleville Minor Football League. He then played five seasons at Moira High School in Belleville, which was renamed Eastside Secondary School.

Shakell then spent five years at Wilfrid Laurier University. Over the years, he has played the defensive end, the defensive tackle and has also been used as a long-snapper and backup bettor.

Shakell, a 2003 Tiger-Cats recruit, began his coaching career in the Belleville minor football system while still in college.

He coached at two high schools before returning to community football and assuming the role of Skyhawks head coach.

As for Styres, he started his playing career with the Brantford Bison football league. He then played for the Hamilton Panthers, who won the Dominion Intermediate Championship in 1951.

Styres went on to coach at Hagersville High School.


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