Grantee Spotlight: John Hunter
Founder of Twin Cities Native Lacrosse
On a crisp spring Saturday at the Lake Nokomis Community Center Fields, you can see entire families gathering for lacrosse. As young and old run up and own the field, howls, laughter and strategy ensue as handmade sticks are flung to catch the small handmade ball in one of the oldest games played among Indigenous people in North America.
The gathering is a dream come true for John Hunter, founder of Twin Cities Native Lacrosse, who started the first lacrosse organization for Indigenous people in the Minneapolis area in 2014.
“We wanted to create good opportunities for Native families to first play traditional game, which is part of their own family histories and traditional history,” says Hunter, who played lacrosse in high school and had the interest reignited after his then 11-year-old daughter wanted to play. “It’s not just about the game. It’s about making sticks and certain lessons and teachings about the game.”
Lessons include health, family, community, dispute settlement, self-confidence, worldview and spirituality as lacrosse is considered the Creator’s game.
Hunter, who is Winnebago of Nebraska, White Earth Ojibwe and Muscogee (Creek) from Oklahoma, received his first Tiwahe grant that same year to purchase sticks and equipment for the modern stick game as seen in high school and collegiate competition. The organization also helps students with team fees, helmets, pads and other equipment for the modern game, which has grown among Minneapolis high schools over the years. Hunter has also created all-Indigenous teams who were coached by Native coaches to play in city leagues.
“If we are going to do anything, we are going to support the traditional game,” Hunter says, adding that in the beginning, there were no traditional stick makers but now there are eight. He also throws in another fact: the oldest lacrosse stick in the world was found in Minnesota. “There are no places that I know of in the Dakotas and Ojibwe that host their own organized traditional games since colonialism.”
He said the all-volunteer organization has been thankful for Tiwahe’s support over the years as Twin Cities Native Lacrosse has not officially incorporated as a nonprofit and has a fiscal sponsor. The organization also doesn’t qualify for other sports grants as its primary focus is culture and not health.
“Tiwahe fits us perfectly for what we want to do,” Hunter says. “We came into existence because there was a gap that we wanted to close, a community gap. We wanted inspire families and youth to learn lacrosse, learn their culture and learn their history. It wasn’t about making the organization bigger and Tiwahe doesn’t worry about that.”