ó The players stood on the field in a circle, passing
burning sage to one another.
one, they waved their lacrosse sticks over the thick,
they faced off, ready to start play on a recent Sunday at
Corcoran Park in Minneapolis. Sasha Houston Brown tossed up
the ball. The other players jumped for it ó raising their
sticks toward the sky and shouting excitedly "to let
Creator know weíre playing," Houston Brown said.
scene that plays out each week in the park among the dozen or
so Native Americans who regularly show up to play old-style
lacrosse, or "Creatorís game," as they call it.
them, it is more than a game. Itís medicine.
prescription for better health for Native Americans lies in
returning to their roots, Houston Brown and Lisa Skjefte
believe. The Minneapolis women are among a new generation of
Native health advocates working to improve community health by
reviving the active lifestyle of their ancestors.
had all of this down," Skjefte said. "We know how to
rates of obesity and diabetes among Native Americans have led
to shortened life spans. Native adults are twice as likely to
be diagnosed with diabetes as is the general population,
according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
worsened when Native Americans were forced to live on
reservations and government commodities replaced the
nutrient-rich, natural foods they were used to eating.
Physical fitness waned as lacrosse was lost to the Indigenous
people who invented it.
was something that was very deliberately taken from us,"
Houston Brown said.
Native Americans are reclaiming the game and playing it as
their ancestors did to support good health.
brings out people who would not normally come out for
sports," said Houston Brown, 30, a leading voice for the
revival of lacrosse among Native Americans. "We know each
otherís kids and each otherís families. It builds
community, which is the foundation of health in many
town, Skjefte led a group of fellow Native women last month on
a brisk walk around Lake Calhoun, which is also known by its
Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska. Meanwhile, other Native women raced
canoes. Skjefte smiled at the sight of the hundreds of
participants in the Kwe Strong Triathlon ó an event she
co-founded six years ago to encourage Native women and girls
to be healthy and strong.
want to transform fitness in a Native way," Skjefte said.
WOMEN, ONE PASSION
the Native American population to exercise more isnít easy.
our communities, we see a lot of our people struggling
still," said Skjefte, a citizen of the Red Lake nation
Band of Ojibwe.
the gym can feel foreign. But stepping into a canoe and being
outside, thatís natural, she said.
going back to these traditional activities, it seems like
[these are] natural pathways. We donít have to convince
anyone to get into a canoe. They want to."
for the Kwe Strong Triathlon came to Skjefte while she was on
a long run.
could just see all the women on the lake. I could see us
canoeing together," she said. "I knew that canoeing
would be the thing that would make it ours."
Brownís passion for lacrosse began when she was a student at
Blake High School. At the time, she didnít know about the
gameís origins. After graduating from Carleton College, she
learned that it was invented by Native Americans, which led
her to start playing again.
effort to resurrect the traditional game feeds her larger
passion for Indigenous health and wellness.
keep coming back to that," said Houston Brown, whose
mother is of Russian ancestry and whose father is Dakota,
Santee Sioux. "If we are not well spiritually,
emotionally and physically, we arenít able to participate in
speaks from harrowing personal experience. When she was in
college, she was sexually assaulted. Strength training and
physical activity played a key role in her physical and mental
recovery, she said.
the course of many years, therapy and ceremony, I began to
heal," Houston Brown said. "Learning to be present
in my body, to appreciate all that I am physically capable of
doing and connecting with other women around health is truly
what has allowed me to thrive."
stays in shape by running, playing Creatorís game and
lifting weights. She leads strength training classes on a
weekly basis that are open to Native women and, especially,
girls. Making intergenerational connections, she explained, is
linked to better health outcomes and is a part of the culture.
Corcoran Park, the oldest player on the field this day was in
his early 50s and the youngest was a 9-year-old boy.
feeling you get when you move through seven or eight people
and score, the rush you feel ó itís amazing," said
David "Bezh" Butler, 36, a regular at the lacrosse
up the sport was a game-changer for his health. He used to
spend his free time in his Minneapolis home playing video
games. Then he heard about a lacrosse practice and decided to
I first came, I didnít know anybody," he said. And he
couldnít keep up with everyone. "I was running out of
air," he said.
stuck with it and soon, Butler was playing for four hours at a
stretch. During that time, he says, he dropped 40 pounds.
really made me think about my health," he said. "It
really centered me."