In Honor of a Friend, Coach, and Lacrosse Leader

by Savanna Smith

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together,” Cherlyn Billy.

It is not every day that you get the privilege to meet someone that profoundly impacts not only your life, but the lives of those they touched. Cherlyn Dawn Billy had that power, and with it came her huge heart. She was a member of the Shuswap Nation, spent over 25 years working with First Nations, Metis and Aboriginal groups in different capacities. Cherlyn was the first female Chief to be elected for the Bonaparte Indian Band. She dedicated herself to the people, land and to the place she called home (Bonaparte).

Cherlyn Billy after the U-19 Indigenous Female Team BC won bronze at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games( NAIG)

“I met her about 4 years ago when she put a camp together in Armstrong. At the end she told me that I had so much potential and she wanted to help me become all that I could be. She has helped me become a better person and player. She taught me about my heritage and the game of lacrosse. She helped my family create our family tree to learn our heritage and hopeful play in the 2023 NAIG.” Sydney Fraser, Team Deer player.

In 2012, Cherlyn was one of the original women who played and was a part of the Ladies of Lacrosse group in Kamloops B.C. She continued to play both box lacrosse and field lacrosse with the LOL, and found ways to promote female lacrosse everywhere she went. Cherlyn had a friendly smile, and encouraging demeanor, that gave new players the ability to go outside their comfort zone. Most players didn’t see the pieces Cherlyn would do for them all in the background, these included photos and videos; as well as purchasing the LOL swag and giving it out for free to members.

Cherlyn Billy after playing lacrosse with the Ladies of Lacrosse in Kamloops; she loved these wonderful ladies and they loved having her. 

In 2017, Cherlyn wanted to give back her time to the young female athletes who would be participating in the North American Indigenous Games as the first U-19 team BC female lacrosse team. She was honoured to have shared this experience and journey with the youth. She worked relentlessly to get sponsorship and donations that would pay for the players to receive helmets, bags, and other items. She believed that these young females were our future leaders and wanted to invest everything she could into the experience for them because of it.

Cherlyn with squad of the U-19 Indigenous Female Team BC as they prepared for the 2017 NAIG games

“My Aunty Cherlyn taught me many lessons such as live life to the fullest and always enjoy the little moments. I had the honor of playing in the North American Indigenous Games and she was the manager of the team. She would make me step out of my comfort zone, and helped me to become a better player, and was always encouraging me to try my hardest. She always wanted the best for her many lacrosse nieces and did anything and everything for them. I’m forever grateful and thankful for everything she did for me. My mentor, my manager, and my Aunty.” Reese Jones, Team Deer Player. 

From her time with the 2017 NAIG team, Cherlyn formed BC Storm Select Lacrosse Society and continued to showcase and support young Indigenous female athletes. With this Society she organized two teams that competed in different tournaments to showcase the 2017 and new athletes she had met in her lacrosse journey. The first tournament was an All Nations Tournament in 2018 in Six Nations, and the second was for the first ever US Women’s Box Lacrosse tournament in San Jose in the summer of 2022. Outside of running teams and coaching, she also found ways to support different players over the years in many different capacities. This included “keepers of the game,” a section on the Societies page that showcases different females from across Turtle Island (North America). As well as holding fundraisers and getting sponsors for players who played at the World Level.

Team Deer during their game on Dec.17, 2022; players from previous years and other teams of Cherlyn Billy's came out to be on her bench and support each other. 

“I remember the first time I met Cherlyn, she was beyond kind, and I immediately had a connection with her. I got to see her at many of my lacrosse tournaments and she never failed to put a smile on my face. I knew she travelled far to come to these events to support womens lacrosse and it meant the world to not only me, but other girls who she was close with. She was so supportive of the North American Indigenous Games and has been a part of it since the beginning. She was again supportive of the Arena Lacrosse League that has started to put women’s box lacrosse on the map. Without her these teams would not have started and I truly respect her for all she has done. She was more than just my coach or my comrade, she was my friend. I am so grateful she was a part of my life, and her generosity will not before gotten. Every game I play will be for her and I know she is cheering me on from where she rests now. Cherlyn was and will continue to be a positive leader for all in women’s lacrosse.” Alex Paterson, Team Deer player. 

In the fall of 2021, the opportunity to create something that had never been done in BC for female box lacrosse players was presented. Cherlyn was one of many who joined in on the conversation and to aid in any way she could to help this dream become a reality. She would take the bus and drive the winter weather to be at the games and coaching. She would drive players including her nieces, and take photos of the games to share with players. She believed that the more doors that were open to female players, the more impact that these young players will have on future generations and themselves. As lacrosse can teach many life lessons and values. “Our best retirement plan, is investing in our youth as they are our future leaders,” Cherlyn Billy. She became one of the first coaches for the ALL West Women’s Division, and believed in the league with all of its amazing players.

Cherlyn co-coached Team Black with Jenn Forlin during the ALL West Women's inaugural season 

“When the ALL West Womens division was potentially starting in 2021, I was asked if I wanted to coach. As someone who has never played and hadn’t coached before, but has been around the sport for years, I was apprehensive. I was told that Cherlyn was open to being on the bench with me, I was super excited. I had never met Cherlyn before, but her reputation preceded her. Her love of the Medicine Game and her support of players, especially female players intrigued me. Cherlyn was my co-coach for Team Black. We had a different view of the game and approached it from a holistic perspective. Cherlyn and I were supportive of players, gave words of encouragement. We would say that we couldn’t teach them how to play, that they already knew, and we would support them. Cherlyn would drive or take the bus down from her home and stay at a hotel or with family. Cherlyn was dedicated, I always knew she would be there for the players and for me. She believed in my abilities and knowledge and she reinforced that. We had many chats and I began to know Cherlyn as more than my co-coach and more as the stellar human that she was. When my family needed help searching for our relations, she answered the call. Cherlyn used to joke that we were cousins from Shuswap. She was more than my co-coach. I thank her for her love of the game, the support, our friendship and the many lessons that she taught me. I know that she is with our ancestors and that she is enjoying the Medicine Game where she is. Cherlyn will always be on the bench with me. Kukwstsetsemc.” Jenn Forlin, Team Deer co-coach.

Cherlyn knew this league was going to be special and that we needed to respect the traditional roots of lacrosse. She helped create the names and ideas that the ALL West Women’s division would revile; Team Deer, Team Turtles, Team Hawks, Team Flying Squirrels, Team Bats and Team Bears. These came from the story of the Great Lacrosse Game. She would coach Team Deer with her co-coach Jenn Forlin, the two had coached in the inaugural first season of the league. 

On Dec 15, 2022, we received the heart breaking news of the passing of Cherlyn Dawn Billy, at the age of 53. She is with her ancestors and the Creator now. Many players from over the years attended the celebration of life and honored her in her community.

Today we grieve and support one another as she taught us too. When we pick up our sticks we carry her with us in our hearts, we see her smile, we hear her laughter and we remember that she will always be with us. Thank you our dear family member, friend, mentor, aunty and coach; you will be dearly missed and your impact on the lacrosse community will be felt for generations to come.