New American Indian group bringing cultural events to Mankato

Aug. 29—NORTH MANKATO — For centuries American Indians settled disputes with a game. That game with a stick and a ball inspired modern-day lacrosse. But that traditional game was lost as American Indians were pushed onto reservations.

A new group formed to promote Indigenous culture in the Mankato area is hosting an opportunity for all to learn about the lost game that is being revived.

The American Indian Cultural Events Group was at North Mankato’s Wheeler Park Saturday and will be back Sunday inviting families to learn about the history and try their hand at playing the traditional game.

Seasoned players Franky Johnson and son Vincent Johnson are coming from the Lower Sioux Indian Community near Morton to teach the game, known in Indigenous communities as “the creator’s game.”

The Dakota and Ojibwe people play with sticks hand-made from black ash. Netting on the end to catch a ball is made from leather straps and is much smaller than the netting on modern-day lacrosse sticks.

The original game thus requires even more skill than its present-day counterpart, the Johnsons say.

But the ancient version has far fewer rules. There’s just one rule in fact: you can’t touch the ball with your hands.

The balls were made from leather, or a rock or piece of wood was used instead.

Instead of the net goals seen today, the original game had two poles as the targets. Sometimes the poles would be spread miles apart and up to hundreds of tribal members would play for days at a time, the Johnsons said. In the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes, the players included women.

The game was played to honor their creator and sometimes to settle territorial or other disputes between tribes.

“It truly is Minnesota’s first team sport,” Franky said.

But the tradition was lost for several generations after American Indians were “exiled” onto reservations, Franky said. He and his son are part of a growing resurgence.

The Nei-Anderson family of Mankato had never played either form of the game before Saturday.

Mom Shanell Nei said it was fairly easy to learn the essentials. She had planned to only cheer her family on but it looked too fun to resist joining in, even though she was in a skirt and dress shoes.

Bradley Nei, 11, said the game is harder than it looks, especially when defenders come and try to steal the ball away.

The teachers will be back at Wheeler Park giving lessons from 10 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. No registration is required and any family is welcome to come try the game.

The American Indian Cultural Events Group has two more events scheduled this fall and more are being planned for the spring.

Andrew Ferris started the group with help from Elaine Hardwick and other volunteers. Ferris moved to Mankato from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota a few years ago and joined the Mankato Area Public Schools American Indian Education Parent Advisory Committee. Hardwick is an American Indian liaison for the district whose duties include supporting the committee. Conversations between committee members about a desire for more indigenous celebrations led to the founding of the new group.

Andrew Ferris’ father, Kade Ferris, will present the group’s next event, from 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25 at North Mankato’s Benson Park. The elder Ferris is an author, anthropologist and tribal historic preservation officer. He’ll share about the history and culture of the Dakota and Ojibwe people of Minnesota, about the indigenous storytelling and the art of colorizing photographs.

An American Indian arts and crafts fair will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2 at Wheeler Park. Lakota and Ojibwe community members will share their art, dance and plant medicine. There also will be another opportunity to play the creator’s game.

Potential spring events include another artist fair and a session on building traditional creator’s game sticks.

The events are all free thanks to sponsors and a state grant.

The aim is foremost to provide indigenous people more opportunities to celebrate their own heritage. But people from all backgrounds also are invited to come learn about another culture, Andrew Ferris said.

Volunteers and artists are sought for upcoming events. Follow the American Indian Cultural Events Group on Facebook for updates.

Angelia S. Rico

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