Mentorship of the utmost importance for Indigenous Gee-Gees footballers, past and present

Student life
Crowd at GEE-GEES game
When Ben Maracle and Trevor Monaghan met at uOttawa’s Indigenous Alumni Sports Mentorship and Connection lunch in summer 2023, Monaghan had already been following Maracle’s football career for several years.

Proudly donning uOttawa’s garnet and grey since 2019, Maracle is the starting quarterback with the Gee-Gees and has been recognized as one of the top offensive players by the Ontario University Athletics association. This season marks his fourth and final year with uOttawa before he graduates from the psychology program with a minor in Indigenous studies.  

a group of 5 people standing side by side

Monaghan (BSocSci ’01) himself is no stranger to Gee-Gees football, having played multiple positions with the team between 1997 and 2001. Striking up a friendship after the alumni lunch, the pair are working together and apart on a common goal of bringing the sport they love to their home communities, Monaghan to the Cree Nation of Chisasibi in northern Quebec and Maracle to Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory near Kingston.  

Their commitment stems from a shared belief: that football is so much more than just a game. It has offered a support system away from home, teachable moments, and the motivation for academic success. And, of equal importance, football has become a vehicle for both men to foster not only the next generation of Gee-Gees football players, but also a culture of athletic excellence among Indigenous youth.  

“Football changed my life dramatically and in a very positive direction. I would love to get even one person to follow that same path,” says Maracle. “Lessons around time management, teamwork, and communication were key,” Monaghan adds. “Football gave me the tools to be successful in my own life.” 

Bringing football home 

Football is not the default sport of choice among kids living on reserve, where hockey, lacrosse, and broomball reign supreme.  

Maracle remembers skipping recess as an 11-year-old to watch Tom Brady highlights with an elementary school teacher. Monaghan, meanwhile, came across football when a neighbour asked if he could fill the last spot on their local team. By age 10 he was playing quarterback and winning team MVP. 

gee-gees football players in a huddle

While Maracle and Monaghan found their way to football almost by accident, they want to make it easier for other Indigenous youth to fall in love with the sport. In 2022, Maracle created a program that brings CFL and uOttawa football players to Tyendinaga for a day camp-style event. They run football skills exercises, sit down for a traditional lunch, and talk about the sport’s unique ability to bring together plays of different races, sizes, and strengths.  

“I try to bring as many CFL players as I can to these camps,” explains Maracle. “For these kids, their eyes light up. They’ve never met a pro athlete before. When you don’t see that, you don’t think it’s attainable. This camp shows them that their dreams are not out of reach.” 

In Chisasibi, Monaghan has overseen girls flag football and peewee, bantam, and midget football games for boys. Describes Monaghan: “My mom went to residential schools and a part of her childhood was lost through that. I have the opportunity to help a generation that needs the support. There are coaches who gave me a chance and I want to give this generation the same opportunity.” 

As program and facility manager of the Chisasibi Fitness Center, Monaghan has also created a work placement program where uOttawa students and Gee-Gees players move to the community for the summer to oversee personal training programs by day and coach football at night. “I enjoy doing this stuff, and it’s a way for me to thank the University for the opportunity I received,” says Monaghan.  

Alumni support for athletic success 

Beyond his work in Chisasibi, Monaghan’s mentorship efforts extend to his alma mater. He has been a member of uOttawa’s Indigenous Alumni Council for several years and says there remains the need to better link current students with the University’s existing resources, as well as a network of athletic alumni. 

And though not yet a uOttawa grad, Maracle already carries with him the alumni spirit of supporting future Gee-Gees footballers: “I live by the idea that to get rich you need to enrich others. The only way to take the next step is to pass things off to the next generation.”  

Gee-gees football players celebrating on the field

Maracle says that more opportunities like the Indigenous Alumni Sports Mentorship and Connection lunch could help student athletes know that they not only have support in their athletic endeavours, but also in their academics and adjusting to life away from their home community.  

Meanwhile, Monaghan and Maracle were both in the stadium for this year’s Panda Game against Carleton University— Maracle with his teammates bringing home a 5th consecutive Panda victory, and Monaghan with his four sons, all in Gee-Gees jerseys, in the stands celebrating their victory.