Teachers Team Up for Real-Life Lesson About Indigenous People’s Fight for Inclusion

Story by Leslie King // Photo by Melody Guyton Butts // Video by Jesse Paddock

A sixth-grade social studies mini-unit on institutional power and methods of “people power” turned into an opportunity for students to tap into recent real-world events and learn about the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team’s fight for inclusion in the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. The decision had far-reaching implications, potentially affecting the team’s ability to participate in the 2028 Olympics if lacrosse becomes an Olympic sport.

“This is ultimately a story about human relationships,” sixth-grade history teacher Mike Harris explained in an email. “But also a story about institutional power vs. people power, human rights, the power of sport, critical examination of ‘history’ and the interconnected full circle of humanity.”

Sixth-grade history focuses on how civilizations develop. This year, students explored three major themes: culture, power and trade.

“And so we kind of had the stage set for the populating of the Americas with indigenous people and having kids think about this term ‘indigenous’ and what it means,” Harris explained. “Jeff Boyd [Middle School history teacher and diversity coordinator], who’s always masterful in what he does, created this wonderful slideshow for Indigenous People’s Month. The Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team had been banned from the Lacrosse World Games, and they’re, like, the best team in the world.”

The Iroquois Nationals were excluded from the championship roster because the World Games’ eligibility criteria requires teams to be one of the 206 IOC-recognized National Olympic Committees, which the Iroquois are not. Ultimately, members of Ireland Lacrosse, the ninth-ranked team in the world — who were aware they were only in the eight-team championship because the Iroquois Nationals had been excluded — voluntarily vacated their position as a competitor in the World Games to give the Iroquois Nationals the chance to compete. Shortly after their decision, the World Games announced a new slate of eight teams, this time including the Iroquois Nationals.

Upper School varsity boys lacrosse coach and Middle School PE teacher Jon Lantzy heard about Harris’ topic of study and recognized that thanks to the COVID silver lining of Microsoft Teams, he could connect Harris’ students with a Native American former player from his pre-DA lacrosse coaching days. Lantzy arranged for Harris to record an interview with Kalen Bennett, a member of the Iroquois Six Nations who knew the two brothers at the center of the Iroquois Nationals’ fight for inclusion and who has become an activist for indigenous peoples. Harris’ students watched the interview, and Lantzy joined them for one of the screenings.

“We try as a people to see what has happened to us and not let it get us down,” Bennett said during the interview.

“That was a unique opportunity for me and pretty cool when I was able to connect Mike with Kalen,” Lantzy said. “I knew that [Kalen] loves to share his story and his heritage and pride for his heritage. It was really pretty cool to watch those two things all collide. My past, my present and what could be the future for all of those kids.”

“I think the goal was to let kids see how lacrosse has played such a role in his life and at the same time how he has dealt with oppression as part of institutional power leading back generations from the invasion all the way through to what he deals with today,” Harris reflected.

“I was moved, it was emotional, and the kids were mesmerized and we did some reflection work so they had some assignments that went with it. It just turned out exactly how I had hoped and even better. I think it’s essential,” Harris continued. “… I think about the students that were maybe sitting in that room who’ve had similar experiences of being oppressed and to hear that kind of validates what they’ve gone through. So I think the more that we can bring these stories into the classroom, the more we’re really getting to learn in the way that I believe we want them to learn here at DA.”

Watch a video about the collaboration.