Red Tribe Boxing: Impacting the Lives of Youth

By: Toni Carr, Elaine Patterson, and Andrew Stalker
Editorial Team: Eva Bertrand-Brunelle, Kathryn Collicott, Lynda Harling Stalker

When we first entered the Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation gymnasium near St. George’s Bay in northern Nova Scotia, we were captivated with the bustle of activity. The space was bright and clean with a freshly-painted feel, and there was the sound of exercise equipment being used in a neighbouring room. A group of young boxers were arranged throughout the gym, each in deep concentration working on their jabs. Dale Bernard, head coach of the Paqtnkek Boxing Club, was busy talking with his fighters as he made his way around the room. His club, now in its second year, is a branch of Red Tribe Boxing, his brother Barry’s larger club in Eskasoni.” 

Members of Paqtnkek Boxing Club (left to right): Dale Bernard (Coach), Ashton Greencorn, Ainslee Greencorn, Jacob MacDonald, Matthew Helpard, and James MacIsaac (Manager)
Photo credit: Toni Carr

Every fifteen minutes, a loud buzzer could be heard signaling the young athletes to change to their next training activity. “[Boxing] gives them discipline and self-confidence,” Dale explained. Just weeks later, on May 14 at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, we would see first-hand what discipline and self-confidence could do for a young fighter. How about stunning determination as demonstrated by one of the youngest boxers of the night? He gave up a foot in height and a foot and a half in reach but continually and grittily pushed inside to earn points against his experienced opponent. How about a young fighter in his first bout who was thrilled at the effect of his lightning quick hand-speed and punching power? This is the value of sport, and we were witnessing the role that community volunteers could play in impacting the lives of youth for the better.

Boxers practicing their jabs and footwork
Photo credit: Toni Carr

Sitting with Dale three weeks earlier at the Bayside Travel Centre in the Mi’kmaw Nation community of Paqtnkek, he described his workplace of almost two years as “just [a] nice atmosphere for our community to come here….We’re proud of this place.” This pride was echoed by Dale’s coworker and former ACALA learner, James MacIsaac. “It’s nice having a steady job close to where I live, and [to] where I grew up.” Dale described his colleague as “a very pleasant, hard working guy….People are [always] glad to see him.”

The centre has brought new life to the community and has become a social hub where friendships are formed and rekindled. Dale and James’ coworker friendship is not limited by the end of the workday. The growing sense of community around Bayside has inspired them to contribute as community builders. “I used to go up down Eskasoni to give my brother a hand in coaching,” Dale remembered. “His name is Barry Bernard, and he had a boxing club for [six] years now. And one day he just told me, ‘So, why don’t you come over and give me a hand coaching?’” Dale asked James to help him out as an equipment manager, and together they decided to start their own club here in Paqtnkek. Dale explained another of James’ important roles: “He’ll call the parents if we have to cancel the boxing, or he’ll call the parents [about] which ones are going to Cape Breton with us…just so they get more experience in fighting at my brother’s club.” One of their loyal boxing parents described both Dale and James as “great people to be giving their time….You can tell they are people-people, good with people.”

“We have kids all the way from Louisdale to come down here – near St. Peter’s,” Dale described. “We have 30 kids. We got some kids, one from five years old, and up: 16, 17, 18.” Dale and James must be doing something right as their numbers have more than quadrupled in just over a year. Dale explained his approach: “First thing I told them is ‘I’m proud of you’. And the kids here, when I’m seeing them at the workout; if I see them improve, I tell them ‘you’ve improved a lot’….A pat on the shoulder makes a big difference for a child.”

Young boxer, Ainslee Greencorn, appreciates her mentors. “They’re all nice. They won’t force you into sparring. They’ll, like, let you decide if you’re okay or not to spar, and sometimes they’ll let you play with the speed bag and skipping rope [instead].” Ainslee’s Mom, Adèle Bona, was concerned about the amount of time that her kids were spending on electronics all winter. She expressed how important it was for kids to have something to be passionate about. She described how the passion was catching on with her: “I’ve been watching what Dale and Barry do with the kids, so I’m kind of learning a little bit from them, but I also started going to the gym when I come to Paqtnkek….It’s inspired me to do that.”

Devoted boxing family (left to right) Ashton, Adèle, Ainslee, Matt, and Esmée
Photo credit: Toni Carr

Inspiration is currently running high at the club. It explains why Adèle and her husband, Matt, have made trips to the gym a family affair. They travel three days a week from Louisdale with infant daughter, Esmée, in tow to bring Ainslee and her older brother, Ashton, to practices. Tyya Lafford-Desmond, another young boxer at the club, described how working at the gym has changed his life: “[It] helps me control my anger [and] not be mad at everyone…punching pads, [not] people.” Dale noticed this impact that the club was having as well: “The most important thing for us is to keep the kids busy to stay away from drugs, alcohol and trouble.” Red Tribe Boxing is open to everyone and “it’s all free…coach amazing, equipment amazing!” as boxer Jacob MacDonald stated proudly. Dale explained in our interview: “We raised the money ourselves. We have Chase the Ace here. People come by, buy the tickets, and that’s how we bought our gear – boxing shoes, boxing gloves, pants, wraps, mouth pieces, headgear.” Chase the Ace tickets to support Paqtnkek Boxing Club can be purchased weekly at the Bayside Travel Centre.

On May 14, members of our ACALA Express team travelled to Port Hawkesbury to take-in fight night at the Civic Centre. When we first arrived, there were a lot of boxing fans waiting to get in for a seat. It was so overwhelming in a great way – all the commotion and excitement. They had drummers and dancers – two women and a man – wearing colourful outfits bearing the Red Tribe logo. It created such a sense of occasion to see these ceremonies rich in sights and sounds, which emphasized how the drum and dance are very sacred to Mi’kmaw culture. The announcer was amazing; just like a professional boxing match, he kept the energy and interest high.

After quite a display, we left the Civic Centre that day as three brand new boxing fans. We saw two pairs of heavy weights, each expending more energy in six minutes to outlast each other than you and I probably did over the whole course of COVID-19 lockdowns. Perhaps most memorably, we watched a tremendously gifted young fighter, who bobbed and weaved, dancing gracefully around his opponent’s aggressive lunges. He bided his time expertly until the moment when a quick flurry of combinations brought the fight to an ecstatic end. The event, put on by Red Tribe Boxing Club and its sponsors, was a fantastic experience. All the best things about sport were on exhibit. The efforts of coaches, trainers, organizers and the athletes themselves culminated in something that became so much more than the sum of its parts. It felt like we were watching lives being changed for the better!

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