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Eel Ground First Nation visits P.E.I. for rugby game

Jason Peters, left, chief executive officer of Aboriginal Sport and Recreation New Brunswick, who also plays on the Eel Ground rugby team, stands with Chief Brian Francis of Abegweit First Nation and Don MacKenzie, executive director of the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., ahead of a rugby match between the Mudmen Old Boys and Eel Ground First Nations teams in Charlottetown.
Jason Peters, left, chief executive officer of Aboriginal Sport and Recreation New Brunswick, who also plays on the Eel Ground rugby team, stands with Chief Brian Francis of Abegweit First Nation and Don MacKenzie, executive director of the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., ahead of a rugby match between the Mudmen Old Boys and Eel Ground First Nations teams in Charlottetown. - Tony Davis

What started out as a regular rugby game between two old-timers clubs turned out to be much more symbolic.

When the P.E.I. Mudmen Old Boys hosted the Eel Ground First Nation’s rugby team recently, the Islanders ceremoniously welcomed their opponents to Abegweit territory.

“This is the first time a First Nation (rugby) team has come in,” said Don MacKenzie, executive director of the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. “Any time any of the Mi'kmaq First Nations come to Abegweit territory, it is a good gesture to welcome them.”

MacKenzie said members of the Mudmen reached out to Chief Brian Francis to see if he would extend the welcome.

“I think it’s always important to create the awareness. A few years ago, you probably wouldn’t have a First Nations rugby team coming here,” Francis said. “There is awareness being created for First Nations in the area, and it is great to see.”

Francis led a smudging ceremony to welcome the players from Eel Ground to Co-Op Field in Charlottetown.

“We are really pleased to have all you here today, so nice to see a First Nations team from Eel Ground,” he told the players, noting he hoped to see more First Nations rugby teams forming in the region.

MacKenzie hopes any time a First Nation team comes to play in P.E.I., it will be formally welcomed.

Before the game began, members of both teams also held a moment of silence for Brodie McCarthy, who died at the age of 18 on May 13 after he collapsed during a rugby game in Summerside

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