Native community welcomes new lacrosse star

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Miles Giaehgwaeh Thompson, co-winner of college lacrosse’s top honor last year with his younger brother Lyle, arrived in the Twin Cities on Jan. 2 to a hero’s welcome before he had even played in his first National Lacrosse League game.

Twin Cities Native American Lacrosse Club youth players, coaches and families joined other members of the local Native community to greet Thompson with banners and an honor song as he arrived at the Minneapolis airport. He was all smiles as he posed for photos and signed autographs for the fans in the airport’s baggage claim area.

The next night, Thompson scored three goals and one assist in his NLL debut at the Xcel Center before a crowd of almost 9,000 fans. Although the Swarm lost 20-13 to Colorado, the team’s native players – forwards Thompson (Onondaga from New York), veteran Corbyn Tao (Nishga First Nation from British Columbia) and returning Swarm star Dean Hill (Turtle Clan Mohawk from Six Nations) – accounted for more than half the scoring, with Tao and Hill adding two goals each.

When Hill fed Thompson the ball for one of his goals, a group of fans in the corner of the arena held up a large Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) flag and danced.

It was just the sort of welcome and excitement for the Creator’s game that Thompson was expecting.

“When I was talking to different (National Lacrosse League general managers) and trying to decide where I wanted to play, my brother Lyle told me about Minnesota,” Thompson said by phone before he boarded his flight to Minnesota. “He said the Swarm draws a big crowd and they really love lacrosse. That’s really how I decided I wanted to come to Minnesota.”

Miles was the Swarm’s top pick in the 2014 NLL draft. The team also drafted Joe Haodais Maracle, Bear Clan Cayuga, who plays this year on the Swarm’s practice squad. Tao, drafted by the Swarm in 2011, played on the practice squad most of last season but returned to a starting role in 2015. Hill, played for the Swarm from 2006-09 before he was traded to Washington, then Colorado. He was re-signed by the Swarm as a free-agent last summer.

On the sidelines for the Swarm, assistant coach Aime Caines (Mi’kmaq First Nations) is in his eighth season with the team. Caines has been very involved in spreading the game in native communities across Minnesota, including leading Lax4Life camps at Fond du Lac and Prairie Island.

Thompson, too, wants to help grow the game with native youth.

“My brothers and I have camps that we run, Thompson Brothers Lacrosse, and we want to grow the game as much as we can,” he said. “This is our game as native people, so we want to take the camps to all of the reservation communities in Minnesota and work with the youth.”

The Swarm play their next three games on the road, returning to The Hive Feb. 6 for Native American Heritage Night and a game with the defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks. The game will be sponsored by the team’s 2015 partner, Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin.

When asked if he had a message for the native community in the Twin Cities, Thompson said, “I’m excited to come out to Minnesota and I’m looking forward to meeting all of you.”

He got a pretty good start New Year’s weekend.

For more information about Native American Heritage Night or to buy tickets, call (888) MN-SWARM or visit www.mnswarm.com.

Art Coulson is a veteran journalist and member of The Circle board. His book, The Creator’s Game: A Story of Baaga’adowe/Lacrosse, was published in 2013 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. He plays lacrosse and traditional Cherokee stickball.