The Red Lake Band of Chippewa held its sixth annual Ojibwe Language camp this week. Kids from all across the reservation gathered in the remote backwoods of Ponemah to learn about plant medicines, and language and traditional native lacrosse.
Or at least, to try and pelt their lacrosse teacher, Kelly Iceman Sr., with tennis balls.
Iceman is a fast runner, and only of few balls connected.
“I’m 44,” he said. “But I play hard. Even against the little ones. That’s how they learn.”
Dodging a hailstorm of tennis balls wasn’t actually part of the game, Iceman explained. It was a demonstration of toughness, to get the kids to stop whining.
“Let me ask you this,” he asked a group of kids. “Who complained today? Who cried?”
The kids all shake their heads. No one complained. No one cried.
Lacrosse has its roots in native culture, but its reputation has been gentrified by white suburban kids, at Ivy League schools. Iceman said the game was nearly lost to its people.
He led a group of kids to his van and pulled out a duffel bag of traditional ash lacrosse sticks. Instead of the larger modern scoops, they have a steam bent circle at the end.
“I only started playing two years ago,” he said. “I had to learn how to make all this stuff.”
Iceman is trying to bring back the old game. That’s the whole point of the camp – to bring back the culture. Over three days in the woods of Ponemah, local elders teach kids how to make mosquito repellent from plants, how to wrap drumsticks, and how to pronounce simple phrases in the Ojibwe language.
Nate Taylor heads up the camp, as well as the tribe’s fledgling Ojibwe immersion school. He said it was the language which got the camp started in the first place.