Lacrosse-4-Life camp a second-year success
The Lacrosse-4-Life camp at the Fond du Lac Reservation is more than a sports camp. For its American Indian participants, who travel here from reservations around Minnesota and Wisconsin, it is an opportunity to learn to play a sport invented by ...
The Lacrosse-4-Life camp at the Fond du Lac Reservation is more than a sports camp. For its American Indian participants, who travel here from reservations around Minnesota and Wisconsin, it is an opportunity to learn to play a sport invented by their ancestors, meet kids from other places and acquire the knowledge to live a healthier lifestyle.
While half of this year's 47 campers were doing drills and scrimmage games on the field outside the Fond du Lac Tribal Center last Thursday morning, the other half was attending a class on tobacco.
"They're learning about tobacco, how to use it for religious purposes, not to poison their bodies," explained Clint Letch, a Minneapolis police officer working as a consultant for the Indian Crime Awareness, Research and Evaluation (I-CARE) justice department program.
Letch explained how the camp first came about in an interview last year.
"I have been in a lot of closed-door meetings with tribal leaders around the state," Letch said. "They're all concerned about issues like gangs, drugs, violence and diabetes in their communities, and losing their kids to those. Someone asked me, 'What do you think?'
"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."
In its second year now, last week's camp nearly doubled its numbers from last year and added girls to the mix. Teenage boys and girls intermingled for all the activities, including lacrosse games. Again, coaching expertise was provided by the Minnesota Swarm professional lacrosse team and its Native American program. Also in the mix were players from the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin - Oneida police officer and college lacrosse player Matt Ninham brought four teenagers from there - where they play traditional lacrosse for sport and for ceremonial purposes.
Bryan Bosto, Brookston Community Center manager and a camp organizer, said campers came from Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Oneida Nation, Mille Lacs, Prairie Island and more.
"This year the kids are more at ease with each other," Bosto said, noting that last year it took a day before kids from the different reservations mingled much. "This year they jumped right in the first night."
Wally Dupuis, First District Representative for Fond du Lac, was watching from the sidelines. He liked seeing the boys and girls on the field together.
"It helps with their socialization," Dupuis said.
Bosto said things look good for a Fond du Lac team this year.
Fond du Lac teenager Kayla Johnson, 16, would like to see the reservation start both a boys and a girls team. Johnson said she likes the aggressiveness of lacrosse and didn't mind playing with the boys.
"It's really fun," Johnson said.
Last week's camp at Fond du Lac was the result of a partnership between the Swarm, the Fond du Lac Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa, the I-CARE program and the U.S. Marshalls, which participated for the first time this year.
Letch said First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign is interested in the program.
The Creator's Game
Although Native Americans were playing lacrosse in the Great Lakes region as long as 900 years ago, the sport was nearly lost to its first practitioners. After Montreal dentist William George Beers wrote up formal rules of field lacrosse in the 1860s, the sport gained popularity in Canada as well as the U.K. In 1880 all Native Americans were banned from international competition because it was discovered a few had taken money (likely to pay for travel) to play amateur field lacrosse. The ban would last more than 100 years. Natives who still played were marginalized, because they were unable to play at the sport's highest level.