September 18, 2018
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Youth lacrosse festival in Down East Maine pays tribute to sport’s tribal roots

By Ernie Clark, BDN Staff
Updated:

Modern-day lacrosse is relatively new to Maine, on display at several small colleges and an increasing number of high schools in central and southern parts of the state.

But 31-year-old Corey Hinton is taking the game back to those whose descendants played the original version of the sport centuries ago, often as a tool of diplomacy between Indian tribes.

“There are stories of games being played between the Passamaquoddys and the Mohawks in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick,” said Hinton, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe based in Down East Maine.

He grew up in New York, but his father’s side of the family originally was from the Pleasant Point reservation — or Sipyak — located between Perry and Eastport.

“There’s one game in particular that people talk about. I don’t know all of the backstory there, but I know that the Mohawks wouldn’t have traveled all the way up this way unless there was something to be resolved, and this was a way that conflicts were resolved.”

Hinton is a former NCAA Division I college lacrosse player at Colgate University who is now a Portland attorney. He moved with his wife to southern Maine from Washington, D.C., last September. He is leading a multicultural lacrosse festival to be held Saturday at the Sipyak ballfield in Perry.

The event, held in conjunction with Thursday’s observance of Native American Veterans Day, will bring together tribal youngsters and nontribal youth lacrosse players from southern Maine — approximately 20 kids ages 8-14 from Brunswick Youth Lacrosse — for a day of sport and cultural immersion.

Plans call for several hours of instruction, games and teachings about lacrosse and its history, followed by a community pig roast, potluck and a social time featuring Native drum groups.

“I grew up as a child knowing the game and my father always told me that it was our game, a Wabanaki game, so it was really important for me that as I moved back I could share what I’ve learned with my community,” Hinton said. “It’s really just a history lesson for the kids in the tribe and the Brunswick kids, a cultural experience around lacrosse that brings the communities together.”

The event is the latest among several Hinton has spearheaded in Passamaquoddy communities since he relocated to southern Maine. He works for the Portland-based Drummond Woodsum law firm with interests including natural resource-based economic development and working with tribal clients on a range of education issues.

The first was a lacrosse clinic and traditional stick-making demonstration at Indian Township just north of Princeton, followed by a similar event at Pleasant Point.

In the aftermath of a series of opioid overdose deaths in the area, Hinton helped organize a larger event in November during which youths and adults played lacrosse, followed by a feast, social time and a performance by a traditional drumming group.

“It was a really hard time for the community, people were reeling and we were looking for something that was a culturally appropriate activity that would bring people together,” Hinton said. “Lacrosse was one event that people felt strongly about.

“That event was really well received, so what we’ve done now is essentially combined the social aspect of that with the clinic aspect of the other events we did and that’s what brought us to Saturday, which we feel is a beautiful culmination to all of this.”

Hinton sees the activities as a way for him to use a tool that has been integral to his life — lacrosse — to give back to his Native community.

“Lacrosse has been one of the largest guiding forces in my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gone to college without it, and I wouldn’t have gotten the jobs I’ve had without it, and I felt like if I could share just a shred of that with the children from my community or other Native children who wouldn’t necessarily have those opportunities that I’d be doing just a little good.

“I consider Washington County to be home even though I’ve never lived there because that’s where my people are.”

In addition to his high school and college lacrosse background, Hinton played on the 2003 Iroquois Nationals U-19 team and the 2006 Iroquois Nationals men’s squad, both of which competed in the International Lacrosse Federation World Championships.

But when knee problems forced Hinton to stop playing, it didn’t end his relationship with lacrosse.

Among his continuing connections is his presence on the board of directors of The Tewaraaton Foundation. Tewaraaton means lacrosse in Mohawk. That organization is involved in promoting lacrosse at all levels, ranging from honoring the top college lacrosse players in America each year to contributing to the Pleasant Point activities.

“I’m kind of like an ambassador for the game at this point,” Hinton said. “I don’t coach a specific team, I just like to promote the traditional roots of the game and the history of the game and I do that through clinics, through youth camps and events like the one we’re hosting Saturday.”

Hinton credits his connections within the lacrosse community for making such an event possible, whether it’s grants from U.S. Lacrosse and Dick’s Sporting Goods to acquire lacrosse equipment or more general support from elders within the Iroquois and Passamaquoddy nations.

“I’m fortunate to have friends who are very well connected to the indigenous lacrosse community and that’s how things have been able to come so fast,” he said.

Hinton hopes such festivals will become an annual tradition in Maine tribal circles.

“The reception to this has been so overwhelmingly positive that almost right off the bat there were thoughts of what more we could do in the future,” he said. “Ideally I’d like to see this move from community to community and make sure that as it moves what we’re leaving behind is a pocket of lacrosse with the goal being that we could have intercommunity lacrosse games.”

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