Monday, February 17, 2014

the interwoven threads of lacrosse: the Medicine Game

The front page story in the Denver Clarion, the student newspaper at the University of Denver, usefully records the showing of the "Medicine Game," a film about the Thompson family of Onondaga lacrosse players before some three hundred and fifty people on a freezing Denver night. Organized by the Native American Students, this is the first of many activities which will explore the University's historical relationship with indigenous people and incorporate the dark story of Sand Creek in our understanding of what will move the University forward, as a multicultural, international community into the 21st century.


The story neglects, however, that Jeremy Thompson, who eventually starred in lacrosse at Syracuse, did not start to learn English till he was in 4th grade. Having learning disabilities as well, Jeremy had a fierce struggle to get through high school and try to go to nearby Syracuse. Finally, after three years a community college, he realized his dream.


There is a steep climb for indigenous people to "make it" in American education.


Even without a desire to deform the game as an elite white sport - many teams, as in baseball and football, have a desire to make the best effort and the old bigotries make no sense to any one now, are repulsive - we need to achieve a new insight into what ethnic cleansing meant and make a new start.


For indigenous people who invented lacrosse, the medicine game is played as hard as can be, with a clear mind and heart, for the creator. This is also how indigenous people participate in the great play of life, draw strength from spirit in the world in contrast to middle class whites who often look at what a sport gives them, suggested Liza Kelly, the woman's lacrosse coach. Sid Jamieson told an indian myth of a game of the animals against the birds, and how the birds cooperated to win.


Jamieson, an outstanding lacrosse player and coach for thirty-eight years at Bucknell, was asked by a student about lacrosse as an upper middle class white sport. He responded that about the turn of the twentieth century, indigenous people were barred from participating. It has thus taken a long time for the spiritual roots of lacrosse to reemerge, the interweaving of cultures to occur.


Jamieson's point was embodied in the presence on the stage of Zach Miller, an indigenous freshman lacrosse player at DU, and in the large audience including the entire lacrosse community at DU (coaches Tierney and Kell had brought them all out). In the composition of the audience and the quality of the discussion, one could sense thrillingly what the University of Denver might become, a school benefiting from and celebrating diversity, in the 21st century.


Jamieson later showed me his beautiful Mohawk passport. The treaties with the 6 nations of the Iroquois Confederacy with the United States at least resulted in this, He spoke of how Benjamin Francklin and others in 1744 learned about federation (federalism) from an Oneida representative. He does not (indigenous people often don't) identify with electoral politics in the United States...


In a discussion the next day of the University committee on Governor Evans and Sand Creek, Tink Tinker pointed out that among the Muscogee in Oklahoma, the game also has a conflict resolution aspect. Tribes who do not know each other, are suspicious of one other, play hard (it is a violent but not lethal sport) and achieve respectful interaction. The game is healing...


In a broader perspective, DU and Denver were born in the 1864 slaughter of Cheyennes and Arapahos at Sand Creek. As Nancy Wadsworth, the chair of the University Committee, aptly said in her introduction, Governor John Evans, founder of DU and Northwestern, presided over the Massacre. Colonel John Chivington, who carried it out, served on the initial board of trustees with Evans and Walter Newton Byers, publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, of the Colorado Seminary which would become the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology.


So, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of DU, this cross-cultural, interwoven gathering marks a new start. The Clarion article speaks of Native Amrican journeys. But the journey to an anti-racist, mutually respecting society and world is a journey most for white Americans to recognize and move away from the past, a journey we all must make together.

"Film highlights Native American journey

Last week, DU’s Native Student Alliance (NSA) and Political Science Associate Professor Nancy Wadsworth hosted a free public screening of the Lukas Korver documentary film “The Medicine Game,” followed by a panel discussion with members of the Denver Lacrosse community.

The event, hosted on Wednesday, Feb. 5, was a part of DU’s Sesquicentennial events series; over 300 people were in attendance.

The film followed the journeys of Jeremy and Jerome “Haina” Thompson, two brothers of the Onondaga nation in rural New York who had ambitions to play Lacrosse at Syracuse University, but initially struggled academically and socially throughout high school and community college.

Eventually, Jeremy was able to transfer and play with the Orange, and currently plays for Major League Lacrosse’s Hamilton Nationals. Haina later reached semi-professional Lacrosse.

NSA President Amanda Williams, who was pleased with the amount of people who came, believed the event served an important part of remembering the Sand Creek Massacre, which also has its 150th anniversary in November.

“The people who came [Wednesday night] took the time to learn about Native American culture,” said Williams."


"Introduction to Medicine Game Event
February 5, 2014

Hello. My name is Nancy Wadsworth. I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science here at DU, and one of the organizers of this event.

On behalf of the DU Native Students Alliance, the Pioneers Lacrosse Program, the DU Sesquicentennial Series, and John Evans Study Committee, which I will explain in a second, I am delighted to welcome you to this screening and panel discussion of The Medicine Game. Thank you so much for joining us on a cold, cold Wednesday evening.

I want to take a few short minutes to fill you in on the larger context behind this event.

As many of you know, a hundred and fifty years ago the University of Denver (which in 1864 was called the Colorado Seminary) was founded on the plains east of the Rocky Mountains, to serve the community of pioneers and prospectors settling an area that Native peoples had also called home for many generations. For a time, these very different communities found ways to coexist, though it wasn’t easy. But what some of you may not know is that November of this year marks a second sesquicentennial:

In an episode now known as the Sand Creek Massacre, over 150 Cheyenne and Arapahoe people—including several renowned peace chiefs and scores of women and children, camped under an official peace agreement—were slaughtered in one of the most gruesome unilateral attacks on record, by Colorado Cavalry. DU’s founder, John Evans, presided over this atrocity—albeit from a seeming distance at the time—when he was serving as the Territorial Governor. Several other men on the original founding Board were directly involved. This event, which generated a serious rebuke from the U.S. Congress in 1865, changed a lot of things between Native peoples and new Americans settling the west.

Now, this is not the place to detail the circumstances or subsequent interpretations of the Sand Creek massacre. But as many of us have learned from the chancellor’s talks at our annual first-year dinners, the anniversary of this event is relevant to our university’s story. Such episodes, while uncomfortable to remember, are part of our history, and indeed they are embedded in the cultural memories of Indian Nations, on whose ancestral lands this campus sits.

I bring this up not to begin from a negative place, but to let you know that from across lots of different corners of our campus, our community has begun to grapple with how to responsibly remember, in specific terms, the hurtful side of our history in the same year that we celebrate our achievements. Out of this grappling, a faculty-led committee has taken on the task of delving into the historical archives and reporting back to our administration about what exactly we know--and need to know—about our founders’ roles in this historical event. This committee is also building relationships with direct descendants of the four Nations impacted by the massacre. Northwestern University, also founded by John Evans, has a similar committee in action, though having been founded thirteen years earlier, their relationship to these memories is different.

What we are quickly learning is that to “own” a long-silenced, dark side of our history is not just to write reports, but perhaps more importantly to find thoughtful, creative ways to foster meaningful conversations about who our predecessors have been, who we are now, and who we as a community have the capacity to become. And out of that thinking on the John Evans Study Committee emerged the idea of a conversation about lacrosse—an area in which Native American history, our university, and the larger Denver community come together in positive ways. When we found Lukas Korver’s new documentary The Medicine Game, we knew we’d lucked out on an ideal vehicle for opening a series of dialogues, events, and exhibits that will be taking place on and beyond campus in the coming months commemorating this second sesquicentennial. This includes a special Pow Wow oriented focused on healing the wounds of Sand Creek in the Spring, hosted by our own Native Student Alliance.

So tonight is just about opening a conversation that will surely deepen and evolve, and we are beginning with something so many of us love and can relate to: sports, and in particular, a sport in which different histories intersect in powerful, beautiful ways.

We are most grateful to the Pioneers Lacrosse head coaches, Bill Tierney and Liza Kelley, for being not only willing but enthusiastic, participants in this event—and to everyone on the panel that will follow the film (who I’ll introduce after the film). Zach Miller, DU’s first Native American player on the men’s team, will be joining us, as well as both coaches, and Rod Allison from City Lax, another important member of the broader Denver lacrosse community.

We encourage you to bring your full hearts, minds, and spirits to the conversation, and we can’t wait to hear your thoughts and questions.


We have one more preliminary step to take before we begin the film, and that is to offer some background—to supplement the little bit of information provided in the film—about the cultural and spiritual relationship between the sport of lacrosse and Indian nations across the continent. For that we turn to one of our special guests, a true expert on these topics, Sid Jamieson, who thanks to Coach Tierney’s suggestion, we were able to bring tonight.

Sid Jamieson is himself Native American, a member of the Eel Clan of the Mohawk Nation, who belong to the Six Nations Confederacy in the northeastern region of the U.S. and Canada. Jamieson was also one of the true coaching legends in collegiate lacrosse, having coached for 38 seasons for the Bucknell University Bisons. When he retired in 2005 he ranked 10th in NCAA lacrosse history on the all-time list for coaching wins. He has won numerous prestigious awards in lacrosse and coached scores of All-American players.

Sid has been deeply involved in the Iroquois National Team, including taking the team to the World Lacrosse Championships in Perth, Australia in 1990. He is the spearhead of the boys’ lacrosse program of Native Visions, which uses sports as a vehicle to talk about education, health, wellness, nutrition, and making sound decisions in Native American communities, and was awarded that group’s “Spirit Award” in 2013, as a leading athlete-mentor. He has given numerous lectures and spoken in classrooms on Native American issues, and was inducted into the Native American Athletic Hall of Fame just last year. We are fortunate to have him with us."

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