Indigenous players in the NLL have a lot to say; we need to listen.
For many Indigenous people in North America, lacrosse is not just a sport. It is an indelible part of the culture, and always has been.
The roots of the game go back farther than we know, but much of recorded history suggests that The Creator’s Game is over 1,000 years old. Its significance and history run so deep that lacrosse is not one thing or another; it is so many things all at once.
Lacrosse can change lives. It is spiritual. It is medicinal. It is entertainment. Lacrosse’s meaning and purpose is ineffable.
Landon Miller of the Philadelphia Wings
Landon Miller, assistant general manager of the Philadelphia Wings, is from Six Nations, where lacrosse is a part of life. His explanation of what lacrosse is – and how it is introduced to his people – is the perfect way to understand what lacrosse means to them.
“Every child born pretty much is given a lacrosse stick in their bassinet or in their wrapping – we’re surrounded by it at all times,” Miller said. “It’s so ingrained in our culture, we don’t look at it as a sport, per se. It’s almost tough to put into words… it’s not an action, it’s a feeling, and it’s extremely important to our people.”
The more effort that can be put into hearing what is said about lacrosse’s meaningful and complex background by listening to the people who play it, the more can be understand the importance of lacrosse to Indigenous people.
Wings’ head coach Paul Day has been around lacrosse for decades. He has coached many Indigenous players in the NLL and has coached against many of the most talented Indigenous players of the last 20 years.
A lot has changed in how we embrace lacrosse’s past and the past of Indigenous people since Day first joined the NLL in 1998. It is significant that more lines of communication have opened and that more non-indigenous individuals are making an effort to understand what they can do to at least try and ensure that Indigenous are being heard and understood. This effort must not only be unwavering but must continue to expand.
“It’s a part of their life and their heritage, and it’s been a part of my life,” Day said. “It’s a special game for me, but it’s a [way of] life for First Nations people. I think that the importance of the game, not only for the game, but for life as a healing game – that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.”
Indigenous players around the NLL are pleased to see that efforts are being made to have more open and honest conversations about their lives, particularly regarding topics other than lacrosse. For the New York Riptide’s Ron John, these are conversations that are important to have, and not just in November for Native American Heritage Month.
“It’s awesome to see that communication open up,” John said. “Growing up, you wouldn’t really expect your [non-native] teammates to embrace it, but now that we’re getting into it and seeing it and feeling it, I think it allows us to open up more about culture, community, family, true religion. I think it’s a door to a whole lot more… I think the more people open up to us, the more it allows us to embrace it, for one, and two, express it better. It can’t just be like this month highlighting these players; I think it should be year round. It starts with more players understanding and wanting to learn and wanting to hear our stories.”
There are small steps that non-Indigenous people around lacrosse can take to make Indigenous players, coaches and staff feel heard and respected. And it can make a big difference.
“The main point that we always say is that if you respect the game, it’s all-encompassing,” Miller said. “If you respect the guys you’re playing against, you respect the guys you’re competing against, and it’s showing that respect that will connect you more to the game.”
Riptide head coach Dan Ladouceur explained how his conversations with Randy Staats, also of Six Nations, during their time together with the Georgia Swarm, changed his perspective on how he can better pay respect to and learn more about Randy’s (and other Indigenous peoples) way of life.
“Randy doesn’t want me to apologize for everything that’s happened in the past; he wants me to listen, learn and to educate myself,” Ladouceur said. “Last year when we had training camp, when we [the Riptide] went to one of the residential schools out by Six Nations, it was Larson Sundown who said, ‘Thank you for coming here. Thank you for listening and being open to what happened to our people.’