Kanesatake soccer player welcomed into hall of fame with teams
In 2015, Kanehsata’kehró:non Wynonna Cross had an experience most athletes – anywhere – can only dream of.
With penalty kicks tied, she prepared for her chance to break the impasse against the Brazilian home team at the World Indigenous Games as a stadium of 10,000 soccer fans watched on.
“It was a surreal moment, lining up to take the kick and having a full stadium boo you,” said Cross. “The pressure in that moment was intense, but it was so satisfying watching the ball go in the net and instantly running to my team to celebrate.”
Her penalty kick was the decisive blow in the team’s gold medal win that year.
In 2017, she was again on the winning Native Indian Football Association (NIFA) team that won the World Indigenous Games, this time in Edmonton.
Now she has yet another moment to cherish: her teams’ inductions into the North American Indigenous Athletic Hall of Fame (NAIAHF).
“It’s been such an incredible feeling. It means the world knowing that our Indigenous women’s team was inducted into the hall of fame,” said Cross.
The accomplishment also meant a lot to her mother, Jennifer Cross, who supported her efforts to pursue her talent in soccer despite the obstacles.
“I was so, so proud and happy because she finally got acknowledged for all her hard work,” said Jennifer, who recalls bringing Wynonna to different men’s teams, even training with former Montreal Impact player António Ribeiro, who became a mentor.
Wherever she went, Wynonna thrived despite the difficulties facing Indigenous soccer players hoping to break into the highest echelons of the sport, according to her mother.
“We often get overlooked. We don’t get given the opportunities,” said Jennifer, who hopes speaking about the success of community athletes will encourage young people to pursue sports. “She’s from a small community and there are no connections here.”
Yet the talent was undeniable. Jennifer, who was a teacher, remembers a seven-year-old Wynonna being taken outside by a fellow teacher alongside other children in hopes of starting up a soccer team at the school.
The teacher went to find Jennifer after he’d seen Wynonna play.
“You need to put your daughter in soccer,” the teacher said.
Wynonna had never played the sport before in her life, but from the time she began she excelled, bringing her leadership tendencies with her wherever she went.
“She’s a middle child,” said Jennifer. “She was always maintaining the peace with her sisters. She was always a leader, not a follower.”
This assessment tracks with that of Harry Rice, who coached her on the winning NIFA teams.
“She knew what she wanted,” said Rice, who met Wynonna when she came to play with the Kahnawake team when she was around 15 years old. Right away he saw the impression she made on her peers, a quality she brought with her to Brazil and Edmonton.
“Being a competitive athlete, she wanted to win,” Rice continued. “She knew how to rally the girls around her to bring the morale up on the team and to get the team going. They were motivated when she spoke.”
He also admired the way she returned to Kahnawake on multiple occasions to help mentor younger soccer players.
“Hearing her story of going to Brazil was motivation for them to want to do better, want to play better, and want to be a better soccer player,” said Rice. “She came out and helped out in the community, too. So my hat’s off to her on that.”
Wynonna, who is now 27, is a mother to a two-year-old who is already showing signs of soccer talent, according to Jennifer. And Wynonna has never given up the sport; she has aspirations to begin to play more competitively again in the near future.
“It means a lot that not just women, but Indigenous women are finally being recognized in sports,” she said.
Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door