“When I play lacrosse, I feel not only a sense of strength and healing but I also feel a connection to my identity as a Dakota woman, as an indigenous woman, and being part of a much bigger community.”
Two boys play in a crunchy pile of leaves. A young girl climbs the jungle gym across the park while her father watches on. This is Corcoran Park in fall.
Just steps away is a large grassy area, which remains quiet until a group of women begins to gather on the edge of the field. Each woman is Native American and gearing up for Twin Cities Native Lacrosse.
Leading the group into practice is Sasha Houston-Brown, a 28-year-old Dakota woman who is reclaiming lacrosse for her community.
Although she’s a leader today on the field, her earliest interaction with the sport didn’t come until she attended an affluent private school in Minneapolis.
“Growing up in the inner city here, I didn’t see any of our community members playing lacrosse,” she said. “Even back home on our reservations, I didn’t see that.”
Native Americans believe that lacrosse was a game given to them from the Creator centuries ago. Researchers say these games were played long before the first settlers ever reached the Americas.
The indigenous people played lacrosse to entertain the Creator; it was also used to heal the Native people. Through lacrosse, they also solved territorial disputes and settled issues between tribes. After settlers saw the Native Americas playing lacrosse, the whites repurposed the sport in Canada and on the East Coast.
Years after the new Americans claimed lacrosse for themselves, both the history and the Native Americans who originated the game were pushed into the shadows.
Houston-Brown says playing the sport has nourished the spirits and health of each player.
“When I play lacrosse, I feel not only a sense of strength and healing but I also feel a connection to my identity as a Dakota woman, as an indigenous woman, and being part of a much bigger community,” she said. “I don’t get that feeling in a lot of other places.”
Twin Cities Native Lacrosse teaches indigenous people of all ages and tribal nations to play. The group offers free lacrosse lessons and is open to all.
At the end of practice every woman says her goodbye. Some head to a book signing by Ojibwe scholar Anton Treuer, while others connect with new players. This is a reminder that while they play for fun, they are also honoring their heritage.
“In our communities, despite everything that we’re facing, and all of the barriers and all of the trauma,” Houston-Brown said, “you’re really seeing these pieces of reclaiming come back.”