Last month, three Native American lacrosse teams, 7 Flames, Subseca and Lightning Stick Society from the Lakota and Dakota territories were expelled from the Dakota Premier Lacrosse League after they complained about racial insults from coaches, players and fans of the opposing teams.
The Dakota Premier Lacrosse League is the only lacrosse league in the territory, and includes players from age 11 through high school ages.
The 7 Flames lacrosse team draws most of its players from the Lakota reservations in the Rapid City area, Susbeca (dragonfly in the Dakota language) in the Sisseton area and Lightning Stick Society, part of the Oceti Sakowin Sports Council in Eagle Butte, draw Native players from Dakota reservations. The league includes a roster of 28 teams from Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, the Black Hills, Brookings, Oglala, Watertown, Bismarck, Grand Cities, and Red River.
In an article by Deadspin, Native players, coaches and assistant coaches cited a wide range of racial abuse that have been occurring for years. Many coaches even cite the abuse as something they have prepared their Native players to deal with as it happens so often.
On March 8, Cody Hall, director of 7 Flames Lacrosse, called DPLL league administrator Corey Mitchell to discuss the allegations of racism. Hall told Deadspin that Mitchell responded by acknowledging that racism against Native American players was an issue in the league, but said he couldn’t do anything about it.
Then, Hall said Mitchell informed him that he was expelling 7 Flames and the two other Native teams from the league. Lightning Stick Society director and head coach Franky Jackson was never notified of the expulsion. He discovered his situation after noticing he was locked out of the DPLL registration website.
Coaches from all of the Native majority player DPLL teams told Deadspin that the DPLL director frequently said he was tired of Native teams playing the “race card.”
One Native player, who asked to remain anonymous said, “We could have played the race card five years ago. But we have dealt with this for five years now, so I honestly think it’s time for us to start using that ‘race card’ if there ever is a time to use it.”
Many players cited racial slurs to include “prairie n---er,” “little savages,” “dirty Indians,” “bunch of drunks,”and more. One other player even said a time where a coach had told the team to “go back to the reservation.”
One Native lacrosse player, who also plays hockey says racism is rampant in the area. He said he was once called “prairie n---er” by an entire fan section at an ice rink, and his white coach did nothing about it.
Many coaches said safety was a concern as oftentimes non-Native players would increase their physicality during the games, causing injuries.
Jeremiah Moreno, coach of 7 Flames youth lacrosse teaches that “The game is a ceremony to us. I tell the kids, this game our ancestors played was a ceremony, so you have to respect it.” Moreno says his team was often treated to excessive rough play.
“Our boys had bruises and the scars on the neck, the chest, the shins, the arms,” he said to Deadspin. “They were stepping on my boys’ shins for ground balls. We were adamant about getting off the field if something happened. It was no cake walk.”
When Hall, the coach of 7 Flames requested an explanation, Dakota Premier Lacrosse League founder Corey Mitchell wrote an explanation in a statement:
The Dakota Premier Lacrosse League was established in 2016 in response to the rapid growth of the sport in North Dakota and South Dakota to create a competitive and organized youth lacrosse playing environment. The league is focused on sportsmanship and fair play and has policies supporting those concepts, much like you would find in soccer, hockey or state sanctioned athletics.
Recently, three lacrosse programs were not invited to participate in the 2018 season. The decision to not invite these programs to participate this season was based entirely on violation of league rules and policies by the coaches and administrators of these programs, and related conduct.
Some of the violations include:
- Not having US Lacrosse certified coaches (which, like other sports, requires a clinic, online modules, and background checks, as administered through the national governing body, US Lacrosse)
- Coaches neither acknowledging nor accepting the Code of Conduct
- Illegal players (non-rostered or playing on multiple teams or age groups)
- Not showing up to games, leaving tournaments early, and giving no advanced notice
- Rosters which were incomplete or not submitted for required validation
- Coaches and players not being registered members with US Lacrosse
- Unwarranted hostility toward officials, opponents, and league administrators
Team administrators from these programs are aware of these league and US Lacrosse requirements, yet have been very vocal in their displeasure of the rules prior to not being extended an invitation to play this season. The league relies heavily on the leadership of the participating associations to carry out its mission and that of US Lacrosse. If program administrators and coaches are unwilling to commit their support for a structured youth program, then their participation in the league is not guaranteed.
The affected organizations have recently made false allegations against the league, its US Lacrosse certified referees, its participating teams, and me personally. This is all very unfortunate and could have been avoided by commitment to the same set of rules expected by all participating teams.
Our mission has always been to provide a safe, fair, and fun environment for kids to play lacrosse and the experiences summarized above are contradictory to our mission.
Coaches and administrators from the Native teams deny the allegations as valid. According to a league incident log, Lightning Stick Society had three coaches cited for violations, Susbeca had two, and 7 Flames had two, but the teams claim the citations were related to extended waits for paperwork to be processed.
In addition to the citations by the Native teams, The Watertown Warriors had three citations, the Spearfish Spartans had one citation, and the Red River Valley Polars had one citation. All three teams are currently playing in the DPLL.
Lightning Stick Society coach Kevin DeCora summed it up. “You’re going to experience racism, you’re going to get called prairie n---er. They’re gonna go ‘woo woo woo woo’. Gotta just let it go and let your game do the talking.”
Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on TwitterFollow @VinceSchilling