The Chronicle Herald
Sept. 15, 2017
Sasheen Regalado turns her head to hide a tear as she wraps her hands.
"Look, I won't ask you what it's about," said coach Barry Bernard.
"Now get those gloves on."
Then the 15-year-old is working the bag.
Weaving and pounding.
Her long black hair floats above as she ducks and comes up with a hard left that shakes the room.
"When I'm here I escape all the drama of the world," she says.
"It's my happy place."
This is a Wednesday evening at Eskasoni's Red Tribe Boxing Club.
Six o'clock hits and kids, aged nine to 22, file into the small club in the mini-mall connected to the Foodland on the Cape Breton First Nation.
Club founder Barry Bernard knows them all.
Knows their families.
Knows what most of them need.
Because he was one of them once.
"My life wasn't perfect," says the 57-year-old.
When Noel Bernard's seven sons were turning on each other, he'd take the gloves and the boys outside and things would get settled.
One of those boys was Barry.
Over the years that followed he'd box with clubs in St. Peter's and Halifax.
Always with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove - he was Mi'kmaq, most of his competitors were white.
But he found Eleanor and together they raised four children and saw that they all got university degrees.
Then they could all take care of themselves and Bernard found himself with good health and some free time.
"I tried to have a yard," said Bernard, looking at a patch of long grass in front of his Eskasoni home before Wednesday's training.
"You know, with trees and plants and stuff."
But yard maintenance doesn't quite cut it for an old warrior.
On the daily drive home from his job as an aboriginal support worker at the courthouse in Sydney he'd think about what both he and his community's youth needed.
"They need a place to belong," said Bernard.
"Respect, dignity, honour, pride. That's what we teach. There's no bullying in our club - if someone gets out of hand, we take them aside and talk to them about what's going on to make them act this way."
Two years ago, he got funding from the chief and council to open the club.
They got insurance.
He brought in trainers - had eight volunteers, including his own four children, certified as coaches by Sport Nova Scotia.
Five referees from the community were trained. Everyone, including Bernard, is a volunteer.
They opened the door - it was free to anyone, be they Mi'kmaq or from one of the non-native communities that also dot the eastern shore of Bras d'Or Lake.
The Red Tribe Boxing Club quickly became about more than an evening sport.
It now had athletes - young and proud.
"Most these kids had never left Eskasoni, never ate in a restaurant, let alone fly on a plane," said Bernard.
In May, the Red Tribe Boxing Club took seven boxers to St. John's to represent their community on an amateur fight card.
A stretch limo met them at the airport.
None had seen one in real life.
When the old car's radiator blew with a gush of steam going up one of St. John's hills and the driver had to get out and pour water into the engine, it became part of the adventure.
Part of the legend they would share when they got home.
Word travels fast in Eskasoni.
Local businesses started buying boxing shoes for fighters.
Suddenly everything they needed was getting donated.
A band worker vacationing in Jamaica found the Caribbean island's boxing commissioner and put him in touch with Bernard.
Bernard, a son and another coach went to Jamaica, toured their boxing clubs and found what they were looking for.
Young fighters, perhaps with more heart than experience, that would be a match for those at the Red Tribe Boxing Club.
On Oct. 6, that dream of hosting an international amateur boxing fight card in Eskasoni is coming true.
Four boxers and two coaches from Jamaica, along with fighters from around Nova Scotia, are coming for the evening event that will see 14 bouts at the community's arena.
Lennox Marshall will represent Eskasoni in the title fight.
The 16-year-old used to play hockey. But he was suspended for fighting.
Then he started showing up at the Red Tribe Boxing Club.
"Life is stressful," he responded to a question about the pressures of the coming match.
On Wednesday he was quiet and composed. He wrapped his hands, worked the heavy bag and got in the ring with Bernard.
He threw blows at Bernard's padded hands, ducked and came up for more.
He doesn't know the name of the young man he will fight.
And he doesn't care where he comes from.
"A fighter's a fighter, it doesn't matter where he comes from," he said.