Rotshennón:ni Two-Axe’s hard work and dedication have paid off in more ways than one this summer.
The 19-year-old, who was chosen as the flag-bearer for Team Eastern Door and the North at opening ceremonies of the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Halifax, also dominated as a paddler, collecting three gold medals and three silver.
He’s come off a stellar academic year that saw him earn a prestigious scholarship to start medical studies at McGill University in Montreal.
He says other Indigenous kids can follow his path, if that’s what they aspire to.
“There’s plenty of obstacles, plenty of challenges, but we’re all capable,’ said Two-Axe.
Two-Axe competed in six races total in the canoe and kayak sports in the U19 male category. He has been paddling since he was eight but spent the last few years — since the last NAIG were cancelled back in 2020 — training hard with the Onake Paddling Club.
“We’ve been on the water pretty much every summer [and] doing off-water training throughout the off-season leading up to the games,” said Two-Axe. “A lot of time and effort was put into just getting here and being able to prepare for the race.”
Two-Axe won 3 gold and 3 silver medals.
His father, Curt Two-Axe, welled up when he watched Rotshennón:ni cross the finish line on July 18.
It was a “very proud moment … You could hear all our family cheering from that side,” he said, pointing to the other side of the lake.
Curt Two-Axe says the Onake paddlers’ determination throughout their training was impressive.
“They work in the rain, they work non-stop these guys.”
His son’s drive appears to have translated into his academic work as well.
Rotshennón:ni Two-Axe recently won the Provost’s Indigenous Achievement Award, which is given to incoming Indigenous McGill students with “exceptional ” grades.
Two-Axe will get a renewable, $5,000-a-year scholarship to study at McGill.
Two-Axe recently graduated as valedictorian, with honours from the enriched health science program at Dawson College. He is taking his educational journey further on to the Med-P Qualifying Year program at McGill University for aspiring medical students.
“Since I was 11 or 12, I always knew that I wanted to work with medicines. Whether that be traditional medicine, helping other people, helping the community,” he said.
“That’s always been a big part of what I try to do. It just feels like the right path for me.”
He’s not the only Two-Axe in the family to ride the team’s wave of success. His sister Falyn Two-Axe also won four gold, one silver and one bronze in the U16 female category.
Rotshennón:ni and Falyn’s mother, Tricia Goodleaf also made her way to Halifax — not just to support her family, but to support the entire team.
“Everybody here is family,” said Goodleaf. “It’s something that will not leave us anytime soon.”
A win for the community
The Onake Paddling Club has been practically raking in medals at these games.
After four days of competition, they had 13 gold, 16 silver and 13 bronze for a total of 42 medals for team Eastern Door and the North, which represents First Nations and Inuit from the region of Quebec.
As for Rotshennón:ni Two-Axe, along with being a gifted student-athlete, he also volunteers as a basic first responder for ride-alongs with paramedics.
His message for other Indigenous kids competing in sports or studying to excel in academics? Just go for it.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds. There’s plenty of obstacles, plenty of challenges, but we’re all capable,’ said Two-Axe.
“They can do it, really, as long as they believe in themselves.”