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Inter-Tribal Games Provide Fitness, Culture and Fun

PUYALLUP, Wash. -- He's part coach, mentor, friend and counselor. Angelo
Baca knows what's it's like to grow up Native and wants to do what he can
to help Chief Leschi kids grow strong and rich in the traditions of the
past and be prepared for the future.

At 24, the University of Washington graduate is an accomplished filmmaker
and nationally ranked cross-country runner. He's the driving force behind
the 21st Century Afterschool program's Inter-tribal games and a firm
believer in learning through play. "Most of the games are interactive,
physical and communication-based with minimal equipment as would have been
done in the old days in playing tribal games. Play teaches kids social and
cultural cohesion like cooperation, goal setting, and equality/fair play,"
said Baca.

The games kids learn include Shinny, Athabaskan football and stickball and
come from different regions such as the Northeast, Plains, Southwest,
Alaskan/Canadian and Great Lakes. Today the group of 14 will learn
lacrosse. Not only will they hear the technical aspects of the game but
they'll also discover it was a very important sport to the Iroquois and
learn how it honored those ancestors.

"This history lesson teaches how the Indians see the world through their
eyes. The kids should be proud of the extensive knowledge the games hold
for them. Besides being fun, it's enriching their whole mind, body and
spirit," maintained Baca.

21st Century Afterschool Director Sunny Anderson said kids are eager to
take part in the Inter-tribal games and look forward to spending their
afternoons with Baca. "Different games let different kids be successful.
Kids are learning that it is not necessarily the big and strong who win
games, but that little, quick and smart students can have successful
strategies too. They are learning that exercise is fun and important."

Baca makes sure the kids know his four rules before the lacrosse game
begins: Listen, respect, participate and be safe. Those words, combined
with encouraging coaching tips and woven with Northeastern Indian legends
make the time on the playing field physically challenging, educational and
engaging. Ten year old Nick Nelson enjoys the games and his Navajo teacher.
"He's fun. The lacrosse is good. I like all the running. It gives us
energy."

Baca wants the kids to be impacted on many levels. "I believe in a holistic
approach and working together from the big person to the small person. If
we are able to see ourselves as our own nations, then we must work from the
inside out from the beginning to get where we want to go. If they see I am
just like them, then we can enjoy our time together and learn something
from each other."