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Traditional lacrosse features less gear and ‘no rules’

The event highlighted the origins of the game as part of the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium annual gathering at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

Lacrosse players.
Carsen Misquadace, left, watches as teammate Tom Howes tries to score against defender Jennifer Misquadace during a Baaga'adowewin (traditional stick lacrosse) game at Cloquet’s Hilltop Park on Tuesday, Aug. 16.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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CLOQUET — More than 40 people made their way to Hilltop Park to learn about a game that is a forerunner of the modern game of lacrosse.

Cries from kids as young as 6 and adults nearly approaching 60 all played the traditional stick lacrosse game together for about an hour Tuesday after a brief history lesson about the sport, a few pointers and one rule from Tom Howes.

The name of the game — Baaga’adowewin — is an Ojibwe word that refers to the sounds made when the wooden sticks strike each other during play. Players are divided into two teams with poles on opposite sides of the field. The object of the game is to hit or touch the opposing team’s pole with a ball.

Lacrosse players.
Dan Ninham speaks to his team before a Tuesday, Aug. 16, stick lacrosse game.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Modern lacrosse most resembles the stick game played by Indigenous people on the East Coast, but the local version of the game is gaining popularity, as well.

“Over the last 100 years, Indigenous people in the Great Lakes have lost a lot of things,” Howes said. “This is one of those things that’s making a comeback. That’s because it has so many health benefits and other benefits to the community. It feels good to be keeping something that’s culturally unique alive.”

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After explaining the history of the game, Howes explained the game only has one rule — no hands. Players can tackle, shove or use their sticks to knock the ball away from others.

Unlike modern lacrosse, players are also on the field without shoulder pads or a helmet, something 12-year-old Jasper Loons liked.

Jasper, a rising seventh grader at Cloquet Middle School, plays lacrosse with the Northern Siege program in Carlton County. He enjoyed the fast, chaotic pace of the traditional game.

Lacrosse players.
Several players reach for the ball during a Tuesday, Aug. 16, game of stick lacrosse.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

“It’s really fun,” Jasper said. “There’s not as much gear and no rules.”

Jasper’s father, Jason Loons, is a Northern Siege board member and said the program had more than 150 kids out this summer and is growing at a similar rate as lacrosse programs in Duluth.

The sticks the players used during the community game Tuesday were handmade by Howes. The natural resources manager for the Fond du Lac Reservation, Howes said the Twin Cities Native Lacrosse program brought a group up for a presentation about forest management in 2017. He was interested in the sport and the equipment, and about four years ago “dove off the deep end” and said he can no longer count how many he has made.

Lacrosse players.
Eight-month old Makwegii Wedin, held by family friend Sarah Agaton Howes, holds and tastes a lacrosse stick before a game Tuesday, Aug. 16.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

“It’s good for every community to have at least one stick maker, if not more than one,” Howes said. “I make our traditional Ojibwe cradleboards, so I know how to do steam bending, and it was easy enough to take that experience and be able to make these.”

The event was part of the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC) annual gathering that started Friday, Aug. 12 and runs through Thursday, Aug. 18 at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet. WINHEC’s mission is to “provide a forum and support for Indigenous people to pursue common goals through higher education.”

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Throughout the week there are meetings combined with community events, like the Baaga’adowein game Tuesday, highlighting local Indigenous traditions. Monday, the community was treated to canoe races, and there is a cultural exchange at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Fond du Lac Cultural Center in Cloquet.

Howes said the game is growing and Baaga’adowewin keeps people active, something particularly important on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

“So many of our people struggle with health — mental health, physical health, substance abuse issues or we simply don’t exercise enough,” he said. “This is one way that we can inspire wellness in lots of different areas.”

Lacrosse players.
Jacob Bell selects a gift after scoring a point in a stick lacrosse game Tuesday, Aug. 16. Tradition obligated him to give away what he selected.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Lacrosse players.
Australian Taylah Pearce makes a face while practicing before a Tuesday, Aug. 16, lacrosse game.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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