|Written by Art Coulson,
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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
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
“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
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
Jan. 25-26, Locations TBA,
featuring former Buffalo Bandit Goalie and Iroquois Nationals player
Feb. 22, Mille Lacs: Isle
Feb. 22, Location TBA: Cam
Bomberry, 14 year veteran of National Lacrosse League and one of
most famous Iroquois players.
“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
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.
All interested players, volunteers and
financial supporters may contact:
Coach Dan Ninham
Minnesota Ojibwe Lacrosse
2323 Wee Gwaus Drive SW
Bemidji, MN 56610