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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Lacrosse Resurges As A Cultural Tradition
by Art Coulson - The Circle

Baaga'adowewag dagwaaging. They are playing lacrosse in the fall.

Clutching sticks and bouncing hard rubber balls off of walls, youth from reservation communities across Minnesota and Wisconsin gathered at Bemidji State University and at Bug-O-Nay Ge-Shig School at Leech Lake in early October for two days of lacrosse skills training. While there, the 50 or so young people and family members of all ages heard stories from a number of players and coaches about the deep and enduring connections of native people to the Creator's Game.

The Minnesota Ojibwe Lacrosse league, founded by Bemidji High School basketball coach Dan Ninham, Oneida, is working with tribal communities to return the game of lacrosse to Native homelands. Lacrosse, played by Native peoples for thousands of years, is both one of the oldest games in America and the fastest growing.

The Youth Lacrosse Skills Camps are free and open to all K-12 students, thanks to sponsors such as the National Indian Gaming Association, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, BSU American Indian Resource Center, Minnesota Ojibwe Lacrosse and Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.

"Our promotion is aggressive. We will have camps and competition during all four seasons," Ninham said. "The priority is to get sticks in the kids' hands and to learn the fundamental skills of catching, scooping and passing on the move."

Ninham said he hopes to reach agreements with all seven bands of Ojibwe in Minnesota, and already has Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake officially on board. Camps are being planned for Grand Portage, Mille Lacs, Bois Forte and Fond du Lac in the next six months. A Minnesota Indigenous Lacrosse league is also being formed to include the four Dakota communities, along with the seven Bands of Ojibwe, in statewide youth lacrosse games. Bands will provide practice opportunities within their own communities with inter-community competition and scrimmages encouraged throughout the year.

The youth skills camps are staffed by a veritable who's who of lacrosse coaches and players. The Bemidji and Leech Lake camps were staffed by Gewas Schindler, general manager of the Iroquis Nationals Lacrosse Team; Brett Bucktooth, a star player for the Iroquois Nationals and the Vancouver Stealth of the National Lacrosse League; and Kevin Reed, director of Community Development for Homegrown Lacrosse and president of the Minnesota Boys Scholastic Lacrosse Association.

Upcoming camps are planned:

  • Nov. 23, White Earth and Red Lake, featuring 2011 NLL MVP and Ojibwe Jeff Shattler of the Calgary Roughnecks and Iroquois Nationals and Three Time National Champion Ryan Beeson of the University of St. Thomas and Homegrown Lacrosse.
  • Jan. 3-5, Mille Lacs: Lake Lena on Jan. 4 and other dates' locations to be determined, featuring Schindler.
  • Jan. 25-26, Locations TBA, featuring former Buffalo Bandit Goalie and Iroquois Nationals player Mike Thompson.
  • Feb. 22, Mille Lacs: Isle featuring Schindler.
  • Feb. 22, Location TBA: Cam Bomberry, 14 year veteran of National Lacrosse League and one of most famous Iroquois players.
  • Feb. 23, Sanford Center, Bemidji: Featuring Schindler and Bomberry.

"We play lacrosse for many reasons," Schindler, an all-American attackman who played for Loyola, told the youth gathered at the Bemidji American Indian Center after the first day of camp. "We play for the Creator's amusement. And we play to heal people. It is a type of medicine for us."

On the second day of camp, outside the Bug-O-Nay Ge-Shig School, the clouds parted during the afternoon and the cool temperatures of the morning climbed into the low 60s. On a football field flanked by multicolored trees, youth and adults shed the modern helmets, gloves, pads and sticks they had been using for the past day and a half. Gathered around an olive drab duffle bag on the sideline, they each grabbed a traditional wooden Ojibwe lacrosse stick called baaga`adowaan. At each end of the field stood a wooden post that served as the goal for the game. As the wooden ball, a bikwaawad, was thrown in the air, the players shouted and jostled for position.

The modern lacrosse game's older brother, baaga'adowe, had returned to Leech Lake.

Overhead, a pair of eagles whistled and glided lower for a better view of the Creator's Game.

Art Coulson is a veteran journalist and member of The Circle board. His book, "The Creator's Game: A Story of Baaga'adowe/Lacrosse," was just published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. He will be signing copies of the book at 1 p.m. Nov. 8 at Birchbark Books and Gifts in Minneapolis.

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