Navajo Territory hosts Bone-Crushing Rugby Match Against Australians
Billed as Gallup, N.M.’s first international rugby match, a team of Navajo “Indigenous Warriors” from the Under-18 Gallup Rugby Club met in a brutal rugby match against a more experienced team of Australian players, losing 41-7 last Nov. 10.
In the process of bringing two indigenous cultures together in a 15-degree near-blizzard, one rugby coach has now developed an idea she hopes takes American Indian rugby to another level.
Timaris Montano, who introduced the sport to the tribal community 12 years ago, aspires to have her own traveling team of international barnstormers. To her knowledge, no such team had ever been put together, prior to November. Given just two months to prepare for the match against the Australians, she thought her team fared well--trailing by just 18 points at halftime--in a match that featured an early deceptive score from the Indians.
“Native Americans rarely have the opportunity to travel, see other cultures or to be showcased,” the 43-year-old said. “It would give them an experience to share with their community while sharing their culture and traditions with people across the world.”
The 28-man group of mostly former players of Navajo descent put up a good showing, considering the aborigines went on to run up similar scores up against college teams. Montano had just two months to recruit a roster to match up with the Australians, who ranged from 17-23 compared to her standard under-18 team.
One of those footballers, 23-year-old Navajo Dexter Dale, described the experience. “We gave it all we got,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience; just Natives on the field. Nothing but Natives. We were fast, but they were big and fast.”
A highlight of the game was a pre-game dance-off between the teams. The Australians performed an organized war dance, while the Natives improvised their own in response.
“It was like cultures coming together in a way,” Dale said. “It was a wonderful experience: Just Natives on the field. Nothing but Natives.”
Despite the large scoring gap, there were no hard feelings when the game was over. The sport encourages social bonding which Montano believes only makes for better competition. “Rugby is a game of true sportsmanship,” she said.
A custom of the sport, the teams shared a meal and socialized after the game. Navajo tacos was on the menu as they escaped the freezing cold.
“If we host them, we feed them,” Montano said.
The contest was an oddity considering it was held two months prior to the Gallup Club’s usual start date.
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Dale said.
Montano, who admitted she has contemplated quitting coaching, said the game gave her a renewed sense of purpose. She envisions her footballers returning to the U.S. and sharing their experiences with their own communities and encouraging more youth participation.
“Most importantly,” she said, “I believe (a travelling team) would help develop interest in young men to continue and finish their education. Maybe one day they can go back and help their own Tribes.”
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