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Stories/Op-Ed

The Importance Of Lacrosse To Indigenous Players

On Saturday, the Georgia Swarm will host a special “Back The Braid” celebration before and during their regular season finale against the Philadelphia Wings.

2017 NLL MVP Lyle Thompson’s designed “Back The Braid” shirts will be worn by both clubs during pregame warmups and a special ceremony before the game. Select fans will also receive the t-shirt.

Other t-shirts will be available for sale with a portion of all sales going to Right To Play, the NLL’s official charity, which is assisting young Indigenous people grow in the sport of lacrosse.

The celebration will grow the awareness of Indigenous Peoples and their crucial role in the continued growth and development of their native sport of lacrosse.

There are currently 29 players in the NLL with Indigenous roots. NLL.com reached out to all 29 players to get their answers on the importance of lacrosse to their heritage, what lacrosse means to them, and if they have any particular pregame ritual that is associated with their Indigenous roots.

Below are the responses from players who wished to be apart of this feature.

You can watch the Swarm vs. Wings game on B/R Live Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ET.

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Kyle Jackson, Rochester Knighthawks – Chippewa Tribe.

NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Jackson: Lacrosse shaped my life in ways probably very similar to others. I was a young kid who wanted to play in the NHL but slowly began to realize that career path was not for me anymore. I grew more and more fond of the game of lacrosse from the age of 3 and knew that there was tremendous upside in both getting an education in the States and playing professionally. The game of lacrosse has always been so kind to me and I hope to give back to my local communities the same way they did for me all those years.

NLL.com: What opportunities outside of sports has lacrosse opened the door for you?

Jackson: The opportunities outside of the game have been far more meaningful than lacrosse ever will be. Meeting Jacob Quinn and hearing his story is a perfect example of the game being an outlet and an event. It is something that brings people together, but when everyone leaves at the end of a game, they have their lives to go back to. The game is an outlet for 2-3 hours where nothing else matters. Whether you’re fighting cancer or creating your own clothing line, those 3 hours inside of the rink mean we are all ONE. Nothing more, nothing less, but we are equal in all facets cheering for our respective teams.

Cody Jamieson, Rochester Knighthawks – Mohawk Nation.

NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Jamieson: Lacrosse shaped my life in the fact that it helped me find who I am. It has taught me many valuable lessons, and helped guide me down the path I chose to follow.

NLL.com: What does lacrosse mean to you?

Jamieson: Lacrosse to me is life. It is something that unites my family, my friends, and my love.

 

Warren Hill, Rochester Knighthawks – Mohawk Nation.

NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Hill: Lacrosse is obviously a big part of Indigenous communities and it’s no different on Six Nations where I grew up. I was born into the game in the sense it was almost a family tradition to play the game. Lacrosse has always been number one in my life since I could pick up a stick. It’s helped me meet a number of new friends, taken me to a lot of cool places and the reason I was able to get an education at the collegiate level. I owe a lot to the sport and it’s something I take pride in whenever I get a chance to play.   

NLL.com: What opportunities outside of sports has lacrosse opened the door for you?

Hill: As mentioned earlier, lacrosse has helped me obtain a college education and it’s opened up different career opportunities outside of the game. It’s also allowed me to make connections from different parts of the lacrosse community and the ability to travel and experience different parts of the world where I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity if it were not for lacrosse.

 

Oran Horn, Rochester Knighthawks – Mohawk Nation.

NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Horn: Lacrosse has given me many opportunities. As kids, coaches would hold up a lacrosse stick and say “this will bring you around the world” and it has. It’s beginning to open many more doors for me and the younger generation coming up as well.

NLL.com: What does lacrosse mean to you?

Horn: Lacrosse is an important outlet to help honour my Mohawk background and it is an outlet for healing and enjoyment as well. It is a game that I have played since I was four and being able to continue to play it is important for me as it honours those who can no longer play.


Cameron Simpson, Rochester Knighthawks – Onondaga tribe, Eel Clan.

NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Simpson: Lacrosse has done much more than just shaped my life. It is my life. My entire life watching, playing, and surrounded by lacrosse has given me everything I need to be the kind of person I can take pride in

NLL.com: What opportunities outside of sports has lacrosse opened the door for you?

Simpson: Thanks to lacrosse I have had countless opportunities and will have even more to come but hands down the greatest opportunity I have is to be the role model to the youth of my community that my generation didn’t have outside of just lacrosse.

 

Jerome Thompson, Georgia Swarm – Onondaga Tribe.



NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Thompson: Lacrosse helped shape me into the person I am today. My father used our native ways and lacrosse to teach me and my brothers to respect all things. We give thanks for all the living things we need on earth. So when we play lacrosse we play in that same manner and just go out and give it our all no matter what.

NLL.com: What opportunities outside of sports has lacrosse opened the door for you?

Thompson: Lacrosse has giving me the opportunity to inspire. Inspire all the youth behind me to push themselves to achieve success. Lacrosse was a vehicle for me. To go to school, travel the world and just to meet new people

Lyle Thompson, Georgia Swarm – Onondaga Tribe.

NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Thompson: Lacrosse has made me the person I am today. There are three things I’ve been told since I was a kid. 1. You must play the game with a clear mind. Always be positive. 2. The harder you play the stronger the medicine. 3. Respect the game and everything that comes with it.

Those three things are what have really shaped me into the person I am today and the way I think in everyday life. Lacrosse has taught me to be positive, to work hard, and be respectful.

NLL.com: What opportunities outside of sports has lacrosse opened the door for you?

Thompson: Honestly the list for the opportunities the game has opened for me is so long I don’t know where to start. The game as allowed me to make my dreams become a reality and more. I never thought I’d be a Division 1 athlete, and lacrosse was my vehicle for that. I never thought I’d be a Nike athlete, and lacrosse made that happen.

The one thing I did envision ever since I was a kid was playing in the NLL.. I believe it was the ultimate dream that made it all happen and helped set me off into the right direction.

Frank Brown, Philadelphia Wings – Seneca Tribe.

NLL.com: Can you describe the connection you have with your heritage when you have a lacrosse stick in your hand?

Brown: I’m Seneca, and the reservations my family is primarily from are in Alleghany and Cattaraugus (near the Buffalo area). And in the arenas I grew up playing, there are designated areas behind the home team’s net where the elders would sit. That’s who I would always play to impress.

One elder, who is no longer with us today would always say “play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.” A saying common in our communities is “good medicine,” often referring to the game of lacrosse. We play for the strength of our people. Joy, passion, struggle and triumph are as vital to the betterment of our community as it is to a lacrosse match. To this day, there’s no better gratification than making a play that gets rise out of the people sitting behind the net at Gil Lay Memorial, Bally Huff Arena and ACC.

NLL.com: Do you have a particular pregame ritual that is related to your heritage?

Brown: I touch all four corners of our end of the floor. And I stretch closest to the center line, putting myself between my teammates and the opponent. There’s so much about this game that translates to life. The men wearing the same color jersey as me are my brothers. I play for them and my rituals are a reminder of my duty.


Vaughn Harris, Philadelphia Wings – Mohawk Nation.

NLL.com: Can you describe the connection you have with your heritage when you have a lacrosse stick in your hand?

Harris: When I’m playing it brings me back to when I was younger. Lacrosse has always been in my family. It’s a big deal to me that I feel a connection with my ancestors and my family who all used to play. It brings good medicine so every game I play I hope I make someone feel better. It makes me feel good that I’m out there paying with a  purpose. It’s a good medicine and I want people to have good medicine and to have a happy life

NLL.com: Do you have a particular pregame ritual that is related to your heritage?

Harris: One of my pregame rituals is I put new tape on my stick every game. Even during practice. Before games I always think about why I play and what brought me to where I am today.  Before the game during the national anthem I think about my mother, father, my little girls, my fiance, and all my families. I think about what they sacrificed for me to be in the situation where I am.


Gowah Abrams, Philadelphia Wings – Tonawanda Seneca Tribe.

NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Abrams: It’s more than just a game to me, it’s a way of life. Just being able to play the game I love so much is a gift. That’s what I was taught being raised in the longhouse. Lacrosse is a gift and was given to us to help and heal us and every time I step on the floor I play like it’s the last time I’ll ever play this game.

NLL.com: Do you have a particular pregame ritual that is related to your heritage?

Abrams: As for my pregame ritual I look at pictures of my daughters, friends, family, and loved ones and that keeps me focused because I play for them. I also listen to my favorite music which ranges from Kanye West to Stevie Ray Vaughan. And I put all my goalie equipment out a certain way and make sure everything feels right.

 

Jeff Shattler, Saskatchewan Rush – Wiki Ojibwa bear clan.

NLL.com: How has lacrosse helped shape your life?

Shattler: From a younger age, it kept me busy in the summer times. I try to tell kids that sports keeps you out of trouble. You are occupied and are with a team atmosphere. Lacrosse gave me a sense of family and I get to hang out with my buddies every time I have a game.

NLL.com: Can you describe how important lacrosse is for Indigenous peoples?

Shattler: It’s apart of us. It’s a part of our history and our heritage. We want to continue passing that along. I go from reserve to reserve explaining to them this is apart of our family’s life and we want to carry it on to make sure this game grows. My job is to educate the youth about where this game came from and who started this game and what’s behind it.

 

Adam Bomberry, New England Black Wolves – Cayuga Nation.



NLL.com: What does lacrosse mean to you?

Bomberry: For me, I believe it works as a medicine. For me specifically, when I have my stick in my hands, all the worries and problems in the world seem to fade away for the time being. There’s nothing else on my mind but what I’m doing at that exact moment.

NLL.com: Can you describe the connection you have with your heritage when you have the stick in your hand?

Bomberry: I’m not too in touch with my roots but I know my roots and I am very proud to be Native American and playing this sport at the highest level. It truly is a medicine and I am thankful for that. But the one thing I truly feel a connection with is my teammates on the floor. We’re all out there for the same reason, Native American or not, it’s because we love the game and we want to win.


Thomas Hoggarth, Buffalo Bandits – Tetlit Gwich’in.


NLL.com: Can you describe the connection you have with your heritage when you have a stick in your hand?

Hoggarth: I’m Tetlit Gwich’in from the Northwest Territories, Fort McPherson, which is located in the Arctic Circle, not much lacrosse happening up there!  I also am Ojibwe from Curve Lake First Nation, southern Ontario, in which lacrosse was once played by members not so long ago. Being so close to Peterborough, that’s not surprising. It is coming back into the community, with it being a popular sport. It may have been played at one time in which the intent was different than just recreational, but I personally do not know that history.

I gained knowledge and understanding when I started playing on different Team Iroquois’s and field lacrosse with my Haudenosaunee teammates. I understood from the years of playing with these particular teammates that there is a deeper meaning in the game. It is a medicine game, and is one that you need to have a deeper respect for the process.  It’s just not about winning or losing, it’s the different relationships that are built through the game, with yourself, your teammates, coaches, rivals, fans, the game itself.

NLL.com: Can you describe the connection you have with the creator when you’re on the floor?

Hoggarth: We all connect to certain things within our lives. That’s universal along with being Indigenous.  I suppose being Indigenous we tend to be taught to think that everything has spirit and that we’re all interconnected. With that it’s hard to explain, but when I play the game, everything fades away and I am on the floor totally focused on each and every play.

I cannot say it’s with the creator that I am connecting with, but there is a higher cognitive plateau that I do go to. I am grateful and thankful that I have been gifted with the understanding and the ability to play the game, but I don’t go into it trying to find a connection prior to or during.

When you understand the Haudenosaunee ways of knowing when it comes to the game of lacrosse, you understand that you really are sitting in the circle of something larger than yourself.  You appreciate and you honour the game and all that it brings to you. For that I am so appreciative for that connection.

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