Native American lacrosse tribute would meet with universal support

Lacrosse’s roots run deep in the cultural tradition of the Native American Iroquois people. The Iroquois inhabited what is now New York, Pennsylvania, as well as other parts of the Northeastern US and the lower parts of Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Eventually, the sport was modified and played by the Plains Indians as well. Lacrosse is seen by many Native Americans as a gift by their Creator and a way to generate a spiritual connection with their Spirit.


This sculpture is displayed in front of the Lacrosse Foundation/Lacrosse Hall of Fame at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

While the game of lacrosse is different today than the many variations played in the past, this sport, invented by Native Americans, has created a lasting impact on many people and cultures in the US today and, specifically, the University of Denver.

Denver Men’s Lacrosse has had several distinguished Native American players come through the program including Zach Miller and former midfielder Brendan Bomberry who transferred to Syracuse.

JoJo the War Drummer, a Native American, is a big part of creating positive energy at DU lacrosse games.  Native American dancers visited Peter Barton last year and performed a ceremonial dance at halftime of a lacrosse game last year and the event was extremely well received.

In the broader context, the University has reached out to the Native American community to explore the role DU’s founder and territorial Governor John Evans played in the Sand Creek Massacre, sponsored Pow Wows on the Campus Green, and featured a Native American prayer at Chancellor Chopp’s inauguration. A Native American Task Force has also been created to increase community engagement.

But how could DU athletics play a role connecting the Native American community to DU athletics?

Why not publicly celebrate lacrosse, a sport linked to the Native American culture, and build a permanent Native American memorial at DU commemorating the important role Native Americans played in creating the game that the city of Denver has grown to love? It’s not an entirely novel idea – Johns Hopkins has done it.

And, why not build it at one of the busiest spots on campus (Featured Photo) – in the courtyard outside Peter Barton Stadium? Pedestrians around the Ritchie Center and fans attending any event at or around Ritchie Center would see the memorial. Students and guests walking around campus between Buchtel and Asbury would as well. And, of course, entrants to Peter Barton Stadium would pass by the spot as well.

DU has developed a lacrosse culture  (club sport founded in 1966, advanced to Division I in 1999) and has enjoyed recent success and increased local and national visibility. Why not use this valuable space to provide a history lesson to students and guests on the founding of the sport? And, there is little doubt that this effort would gain the widespread support and dollars needed to design and construct a suitable memorial.

DU’s local Native American community participation in the design is critical, too. The project could only proceed with the full endorsement and support of DU’s Native American Task Force. They should be the engine behind concept development, design and roll-out. In a letter in 2016 regarding the work of the task force, Chancellor Chopp said, “Think about the ways in which we as a community can specifically acknowledge and engage our history and, in the process, create a greater and more inclusive DU.”

The right way to do this in our view is by adding positive new symbols and new traditions  which honor and recognize the contributions made by this important member of the community.

When better to get this going than right now, with lacrosse season right around the corner?