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UMN students interweave traditional and modern lacrosse

Traditional and modern lacrosse may seem similar, but the traditional game has cultural significance to Indigenous people.
Image by Trent Jacobson (courtesy)
Trent Jacobson was a coach for the LAX-4-Life traditional lacrosse camp up in Fond Du Lac.

Lacrosse was invented by the Indigenous peoples centuries ago as a traditional stickball game played by tribes across the country. 

University of Minnesota students, like Trent Jacobson, are bringing those roots back. 

Jacobson, an Oglala Lakota student from Crystal, Minnesota transferred to the University in spring 2024 hoping to graduate in information technology infrastructure.

Jacobson is a current member of the lacrosse club team for the University and has loved the game since he was a child. 

“I started playing lacrosse in 5th grade; I think I was 11 years old,” Jacobson said.

With Jacobson’s older brother introducing the game to him at such a young age, he said he felt he could excel in lacrosse earlier than other players who first started playing in high school.

Not only does Jacobson participate in club lacrosse, but he said he also has a love for traditional lacrosse. 

“I see the game as a medicine; it healed me in some ways,” Jacobson said.

The University is home to the BIG club, which stands for Bayaga’adowejig Ingiw Gabe-gikendaasowiigamigong, translating to “lacrosse players at the University” in the Ojibwe language.

Nicholas Deshaw, the BIG faculty advisor, said the club exists to promote the Great Lakes style of lacrosse at the University, hoping to have students engage with parts of their culture and traditions. 

“The game has many purposes, it is a way to cure illness, settle disputes, create alliances and just have a lot of fun,” Deshaw said in an email statement to The Minnesota Daily. “In Minnesota, the game largely went to sleep until the last decade or so when it has been waking up and is now being actively played again by many Native communities across the state.” 

Jacobson said he started playing traditional lacrosse two years ago after he went to the Premier Lacrosse League in Minneapolis. There, he saw the Twin Cities Native Lacrosse group having a clinic, allowing him to play traditional lacrosse for the first time. 

“I have been learning the history of the game these past couple of years,” Jacobson said.

Soon after his first time playing traditional lacrosse, Jacobson said he went to LAX-4-Life, a traditional lacrosse camp on the Fond du Lac reservation. His love for the sport grew there, and now Jacobson tries to attend every traditional lacrosse camp he can. 

Rory Taylor, director of Indigenous Initiative for Homegrown Lacrosse, said in an email statement to The Daily that he has worked with Jacobson at several traditional lacrosse events and camps.

“I cannot speak for other Indigenous peoples or communities, but lacrosse is an integral part of my own understanding of Indigenous sovereignty, spirituality and wellness,” Taylor said. 

Taylor said the importance of young people, like Jacobson, playing the game stems from Indigenous people not being allowed to participate in traditional practices like lacrosse only 50 years ago. 

“I am proud of and inspired by the work of Indigenous communities to revitalize their traditional sports as a part of larger conceptions of Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, and being”, Taylor said. 

Noah Ebner Borst, a third-year student majoring in industrial and systems engineering, has played with Jacobson these past couple of months on the club lacrosse team and said he is an integral part of their team. 

“On the field, he is dependable, but also spontaneous and incredibly creative in his playing style,” Borst said. “I was intrigued and excited when Trent shared the opportunity to compete and learn more about the traditional game.”

Although Jacobson has not been playing traditional lacrosse long, he said learning the spiritual part of lacrosse was the biggest lesson he has learned. 

“It’s important to relive and replay the sport our ancestors once played and invented,” Jacobson said. 

The funding for this reporting position comes from a grant given to The Minnesota Daily from the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with money from the Freedom Forum. The Daily retains editorial independence from the University of Minnesota in all forms, including this reporting position.

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  • holly jacobson
    Apr 18, 2024 at 4:24 pm

    Great article on Traditional Lacrosse and the meaning it has to Indigenous people from all nations!