By Jim Drevescraft
The ancient sport of lacrosse, which has been reborn as a major collegiate and professional sport in the past several years, is a uniquely Native American invention. While there are plentiful sports involving sticks and balls around the globe, the cultural significance and specific equipment used for lacrosse are unlike any other.
Called "the younger brother of war" by the Creek tribes, lacrosse as played across the eastern part of what would become the United States and Canada was more than an athletic competition. With spiritual linkage to such legends as the turtle as Mother Earth and referred to as the "Creator's game," lacrosse competitions were important in ways beyond mere sport, becoming a way to settle disputes and connect to the spiritual world.
The Sioux tribes known as Dakota were ardent players in their ancestral lands lying in what is now Wisconsin and Minnesota, and as they migrated westward in the 1700's, brought lacrosse with them to related Sioux tribes such as the Lakota.
The Oglala Wild is Pine Ridge's youth lacrosse team that was recently born after a fortuitous connection with a unique young man named Ben Wiegel.
This eighteen-year-old started Koby's Cause to honor a high school lacrosse teammate and friend who unfortunately committed suicide. Ben was able to solicit the donation of 25 top of the line lacrosse sticks by StringKing and also sourced some used helmets and other necessary equipment
A long drive from Florida brought him to Pine Ridge to conduct a three-day clinic and raise awareness about teen suicide (the suicide rate on the reservation for teens is 3 ½ times the national average) and how lacrosse can provide valuable training, goals and a positive outlook on life in general.
The response has been very encouraging, although there is still a long way to go to completely outfit the team. One Spirit has already provided 300 lacrosse balls, but additional equipment is still urgently needed. A number of adults are trying to help get the team going, notably Cory Black Feather (who also coaches elementary school cross country) and Dale Pine, the Pine Ridge high school cross country coach. Travis Thunder Bull, Director of the Allen Youth Center, has a number of additional young people who are eager to participate, but lack enough equipment, to say nothing of the difficulty finding transportation to make the 80+ mile round trip to Pine Ridge for practice.
What is needed?
Lacrosse, being a contact sport, involves helmets, rib protectors, elbow and shoulder pads as well as sticks and balls. The team also lacks the funds to purchase goals (a frame with attached netting). Team jerseys and other apparel are also needed.
In addition, the Wild need the means to facilitate transportation for the players between locations on the reservation. Cory and his wife drive at least eighty miles weekly to help out, and one player is actually living on the Standing Rock Reservation four hours away! A safe and serviceable team vehicle with funds for fuel and maintenance would be a dream come true for these dedicated youth and their adult supporters.
Is there enthusiasm?
Cory observes that one kid tried to walk many miles to practice, ending up essentially running away from home. Some of the players have had to choose between dinner and missing practice. Travis is dealing with only a small amount of equipment (four sticks), making it difficult to involve all of the young enthusiasts in Allen. This even includes his relative, Leilani Richards, that Ben Wiegel thought shows outstanding potential.
Properly equipped and with better transportation options (which could even include enough gas money to enable people to use their own vehicles where possible), the Oglala Wild has the potential to become a powerful positive force in the Lakota community to help reduce teen suicide, grow pride among the young people of the Pine Ridge reservation, and restore the culturally important Native American sport of lacrosse to its rightful place.
One Spirit exists first to help the Lakota achieve healthful sustainability through our food program, but also to help foster other beneficial projects that can help the Lakota help themselves. Our running program has proven to be a huge success, and there is nothing to prevent the lacrosse team from achieving similar stature.
Everyone is hoping that the Oglala Wild will be outfitted well enough to participate in a memorial tourney September 23 and 24 in Mankato, Minnesota. This will be followed by an instructional camp in October and, if travel funds are obtained, a trip to the inaugural Turtle Game in Maryland on November 4.
The turtle, Native American symbol of health and prosperity, as well as Mother Earth, is the chosen symbol of this event, which will be held at the Sparks, Maryland U.S. Lacrosse facility from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. with rotating participation by high school and college players. It is a benefit for One Spirit and a few other service and environmental groups. Getting members of the Wild there, even if only to be spectators, would be a wonderful experience for Lakota young people, broadening their horizons and offering an affirmative outlook for their own lives.
It is said men do not live by bread alone. Supporting a healthful, culturally important sport for the young people of the Pine Ridge Reservation is another path One Spirit is following in our mission to help the Lakota in every positive, uplifting way we can.