You’re here to bring back our game. This is the Creator’s Game. We don’t play it for ourselves – we play for Creator.”
|Written by Art Coulson,
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With these words, Clint Letch, president of the Native American Law Enforcement Summit (NALES), kicked off a four-day lacrosse camp at the Fond du Lac Reservation in northern Minnesota on July 26, the first in a series of camps across the region that will pair up professional lacrosse players and Native youth.
The camp, a partnership of the Fond du Lac Band, the Minnesota Swarm professional lacrosse team and NALES, focused on lacrosse fundamentals, leadership skills, nutrition and cultural connections between Native people and the game given to us by the Creator.
Letch was a driving force behind the creation of the camp, but quickly found strong allies in Andy Arlotta, an owner of the Swarm, and Fond du Lac tribal leaders, including Chairwoman Karen Diver, Council Member Wally Dupuis and Brookston Community Center manager Bryan “Bear” Bosto.
“We are all very excited about what’s going on with lacrosse and the Native youth,” Arlotta said. “This would have never been possible if it weren’t for Clint Letch of NALES and Bear Bosto of the Fond du Lac tribe. These people made it happen.”
The camp was an easy sell to tribal leaders.
“We were looking for positive alternatives for youth involvement – athletics is one way to do that,” said Diver. “The cultural connections to lacrosse made it a good fit. We also saw the health benefits – encouraging physical activity is important as well.”
Staffing the camp were Swarm assistant coach and former professional lacrosse player Aime Caines, Swarm defenseman Travis Hill, a Tuscarora from southern Ontario, and other members of the Swarm front office.
“Lacrosse is more than just a sport,” said Caines, who also coaches at the University of Minnesota, “It’s a way of life.”
Hill, 28, has been playing the game since he was 2. Hill, as a well-known Native player, has been at the center of the Swarm’s outreach into Native communities across Minnesota.
“It’s in your blood, whether you know it or not,” Hill told the 30 teens from five Minnesota and Wisconsin tribal communities. “It will come naturally to you when you pick up that stick.”
The lacrosse equipment the youth used at the camp was donated by Harrow, Bite Tech and Under Armour. The excitement on their faces as they lined up for helmets, pads and sticks lit up the tribal government center.
Youth and chaperones came to the camp from the Twin Cities, Fond du Lac, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, Grand Portage in Minnesota, and the Lac Courte Oreilles in Wisconsin.
Bob Dykstra, who works for the Lac Courte Oreilles school system and Boys and Girls Club, brought five teens to the camp. He said they were inspired by a trip to St. Paul this spring to watch a Swarm game.
“That’s what excites us about this camp – that the kids are so excited about lacrosse,” he said.
Joe Porter, a chaperone from Grand Portage, said his tribal council asked him to bring a group of boys to the camp and even went so far as to pay the youth as part of the tribe’s summer work program.
“They are really big supporters of this effort,” he said. “The checks will be waiting for the boys when they get back – I told them they are now semi-professional lacrosse players.”
Throughout the camp, the adults kept reminding the youth that they were at Fond du Lac for more than just fun and games.
“We’re here to get healthy,” Letch told the boys as they prepared to start the first day of camp. “Instead of picking up a gun, I want you to pick up a lacrosse stick. Instead of losing a limb or your lives at a young age to diabetes, I want you to play lacrosse, to become leaders in your communities. You don’t need to be in a gang to learn leadership – you can be leaders on the field. You will go back to your communities as ogitchidag, as warriors.”