Kids play ‘the Creator’s game’ for lifeDuring Thursday’s final lacrosse camp scrimmage, everyone had to be ready for action-even the spectators. Players were chasing the ball and each other all over, crossing boundary lines with impunity, seemingly so wrapped up in the game that they were unaware of their surroundings.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
During Thursday’s final lacrosse camp scrimmage, everyone had to be ready for action <\_> even the spectators. Players were chasing the ball and each other all over, crossing boundary lines with impunity, seemingly so wrapped up in the game that they were unaware of their surroundings. With dozens of players on the field, it took 20-some minutes to score the first goal.
That’s just fine, said Josh Baker, one of the camp’s organizers, explaining that the campers, their coaches and chaperones were playing a game of traditional Native American lacrosse.
“There’s no out-of-bounds and no rules, really,” Baker said, noting that they did allow the non-traditional helmets and pads for safety reasons. “It’s a medicine game [played for healing]. They are playing and thinking of family, loved ones, while they play.”
Last week marked the fourth annual LAX-4-Life camp held on the Fond du Lac reservation. A total of 38 players ages 12 to 16 <\_> 47 if you count the youth counselors <\_> came from numerous reservations in Minnesota and Wisconsin to learn how to play lacrosse, meet kids from other tribal communities and take classes focusing on a more healthy lifestyle.
While the game was being played Thursday on the field near the Fond du Lac Ojibwe school, Baker explained, tradition holds that “there’s a game going on with the Creator at the same time.”
While Baker was mixing it up with the players on the field, the sidelines were filled with an array of observers: a general, elected tribal officials, National Guard soldiers, proud parents and even a few former campers.
Former camper Kayla Jackson was there as a counselor, helping the girls learn the game of lacrosse and acting as big sister in case they had any other issues they wanted to discuss.
“Whatever they throw at me, I help them,” Jackson said.
Cloquet’s Cameron Holshauser came as a camper the first three years; this year he was a youth counselor. Before he started playing, Holshauser thought of lacrosse as a sport primarily played by “preppy East Coast” kids.
“I knew there were kids who played in a league in Duluth, but I played hockey and didn’t have time for it,” he said.
After learning that lacrosse was invented by Native Americans, he made time.
“It was more attractive to me and a lot of other kids because it was part of our heritage,” he said. “Part of us, really.”
He knows his sports history now. Native Americans were playing lacrosse in the Great Lakes region as long as 900 years ago. Games would last for days and could involve anywhere from 100 to 1,000 men playing on a field with goals spread as far as two miles apart, according to an article in Sports Illustrated in July 2010.
Thursday marked the first time Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Rick Nash had visited the camp and the reservation. The Guard has been one of the camp’s three primary sponsors for the past two years, along with The Swarm (Minnesota’s professional lacrosse team) and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
Before the scrimmage, Nash toured a number of facilities with Band Chairwoman Karen Diver.
“What we do here really reinforces our message to youth in terms of values: healthy living, leadership opportunities, role models,” Nash said. “We’re just trying to augment the great message that Fond du Lac is already putting out.”
While Guard members don’t actively recruit during the camp, they do talk about the military experience and help the campers better understand what that is all about. Guard members talk about goal setting, conduct mock interviews and help with writing resumes, among other things.
Minneapolis police officer Clint Letch was also on the sidelines, having taken vacation time to come up and take part in the camp he helped found.
When Letch looks out on the lacrosse pitch, he sees more than Native American kids playing a sport their ancestors invented.
He also sees things those kids may have avoided <\_> thanks perhaps, in part, to their involvement in the LAX-4-Life camp <\_> things like teen pregnancy, drug addiction or diabetes. While the four-day camp brings teenage boys and girls together from multiple reservations in Minnesota and Wisconsin to learn the sport of lacrosse, classes on everything from history to nutrition to preventing drug abuse are also part of the curriculum.
Letch, who was working as a consultant for the I-CARE (Indian Crime Awareness, Research and Evaluation) justice department program four years ago when the camp started, recalled the genesis of the program. He’d been meeting with tribal leaders from around the state who were concerned with issues like gangs, drugs, violence and diabetes in their communities, and losing their kids to those.
“Someone asked me, ‘What do you think?’” Letch told the Pine Journal in 2010. “Then it hit me: lacrosse. Being the Creator’s Game, it’s a great thing to bring back to the communities. There’s no better way to get the kids healthy, respecting themselves, working together.”
Is it working?
“I think it is,” Letch said last Thursday afternoon. “People want to talk numbers, but when I look on the field, I see two kids that didn’t die because of gang violence. I see six girls who aren’t pregnant. I see dozens of kids who are still in school. I see everyone taking part in his or her culture. Everyone on that field has not committed suicide. Yes, it’s making a difference.”
Camp organizer Brian “Bear” Bosto agreed.
“You can tell from their Facebook posts and hearing them talk what kind of decisions they’re making,” he said. “No. 1, they’re coming back to camp. They’re making a decision not to stay at home. And they’re learning. I heard a 13-year-old camper from White Earth talking about diabetes today after he’d sat through the class. It’s working.”
Bosto said it’s nice to see the campers from different reservations get to know one another.
“I’d like to thank the communities that showed up again, all of our partners, and the General, for telling the kids they matter.”