By Danielle Vienneau
This story begins 15 years ago when a group of 11-year-old boys from Peguis First Nation and Fisher River Cree Nation came together for the love of baseball. They started their journey in the Peewee division, just having fun and playing their favourite summer sport—the coaches and players could never have known the adventures they would have or the legacy they would create.
It’s not very common, at least in Canada, to have a group of young people (15 youth) stay together, developing and growing together in a sport, for well over a decade and accomplishing what the Redmen Fastball Team has achieved.
This team has represented their communities, their people, their province and their country at countless regional, provincial, national and international tournaments throughout their youth and now as young adults, defying all odds and proving to themselves and others what is possible through hard work and commitment.
“One of the things we pride ourselves in is that we don’t just build good athletes, we build good people, ambassadors of the sport and of our people,” says Mike Sutherland, the team’s coach and general manager. “Our team has been all over North America. We don’t always win at these huge tournaments but represent, and do it with dignity and respect.”
Sutherland is one of the coaches of the Peguis Senior A Redmen team and the U23 Redmen team, which is another group of talented players that acts as a feeder team for the Senior A team. In 2019, the Peguis Senior Redmen won the seniors’ men’s division at the Canadian Native Fastball Championships, and three years after the pandemic halted all sports participation, the team went back to defend their title but came up short after playing an all-star team from Western Canada.
In 2022, the U23 and seniors’ men’s clubs both proudly represented Softball Manitoba in various A and AA championships throughout the United States, including at the National Amateur Fastball Association Championships in Las Vegas and the Fargo Memorial Tournament in North Dakota.
Most recently, the Redmen program had representatives coach the U16 Team Manitoba boys fastball team at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG)—the team successfully living up to the Redmen team expectations and coming home with the gold medal.
“Last year the Manitoba Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Council approached the Redmen to coach this program because no one would step up,” says Sutherland. “We had a series of training camps over the winter and entered the team in an early season tournament in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. This was enough to prepare them for NAIG, and we were successful!” Sutherland would like to recognize Dennis Stevenson and Tyler Woodhouse for all their hard work in preparing the team to compete at NAIG.
One of the biggest highlights for the Redmen team to date has been competing at a world championship with the best of the best. “It’s a remarkable feeling to be at a world championship with a whole Indigenous team, especially a local team from our own Manitoba communities,” expresses Sutherland.
Their success has not come without challenges, however. They have experienced racism, bias and other hardships, but it has been their brotherhood that has seen them through these difficult times. The fastball program that Peguis has built is not only creating a legacy of sport excellence, but it’s also building all-around good humans and leaders by providing mentorship and support to the young men from the community.
Despite the barriers they have faced, the Redmen Fastball team have certainly made a name for themselves in the world of fastball, which continues to earn them invitations to top-tier tournaments across North America, a testament to their hard work and dedication. In August the team headed to the International Softball Congress world tournament in Denmark, Wisconsin.
“We will continue to represent our First Nation community and be a positive group of role models for other Indigenous youth on Turtle Island,” says Sutherland. “Dreams do come true, and we are working to achieve ours as world champions.”
For more information visit: peguisconsultation.ca.
Story sponsored by Peguis Consultation and Special Projects Inc. The Peguis Consultation and Special Projects Inc. (PCSP) is a unique department of Peguis First Nation that focuses on Section 35 consultations and special projects. The PCSP utilises its efforts to ensure capacity is maintained within the community. It is managed and staffed by Peguis First Nation members.