Lacrosse Resurges As a Cultural Tradition


Baaga’adowewag dagwaaging. They are

playing lacrosse in the fall.

lacrosse resurges as a cultural tradition.jpg

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

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


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

    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


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