Even in the summer heat, Doug Peconge didn't shy away from showing visitors how to make a Miami lacrosse stick outside the Chief Richardville House on Saturday.
“He needs the practice,” said Diane Hunter, Miami tribal historic preservation officer, laughing as Peconge returned to his craft.
Peconge's lacrosse workshop was part of Miami Indian Heritage Days, which run on the first Saturday of every month through November. The Heritage Days were created to expose the rest of Fort Wayne to the history of the Miami tribe.
“Really when you think about it, this was considered the West in America,” The History Center's Zach Arnett said in explaining the Miami tribe's presence in Fort Wayne. “It's just getting people to get that contextual appreciation.”
While the Chief Richardville House has long been a popular destination for sight-seers, it was Peconge who took center stage Saturday.
Having grown up in Indiana, Peconge works as a community programming manager for the local extension of the Miami Tribal Office, creating cultural and language opportunities for the 600 tribal citizens living in the northeast Indiana area.
Lacrosse is one of the many activities that brings the community together throughout the year.
And while he's only been making sticks for two years, Peconge's knowledge of the sport resembles that of a pro.
Lacrosse was originated by the Iroquois tribe. Though most see lacrosse as only a sport, Peconge said many considered it to be more than that. Lacrosse could be played to settle a land dispute or as a way to honor someone special in a community. In speaking of the number of players, Peconge said he has seen up to 100 players on the field.
“Historically, we've heard maybe a thousand people playing at one time, and lasting a week. They just keep playing,” Hunter added with a smile.
Apart from the sport's multiple meanings, Peconge draws attention to the materials used in the process of making the stick, which includes splitting hickory wood for the base and leaving the stick in a steam box to make it more bendable.
It's no surprise that Peconge's model stands out from most that are used in today's games.
“The characteristics on that are way different than this,” said Peconge as he pointed to a newer stick lying across a park bench table. “How you pick up a ball, how you throw it, how you shoot it, how you carry it – it's a new learning curve.”
Though making the sticks is a labor-intensive process for the 46-year old Peconge, the grind is worth it by day's end.
“I think it's fun to get out there and use that stick on the field, just the way my ancestors would have played,” said Peconge, who's played the sport for six years. “Even though I made (a stick) today, that's a connection back to my ancestors.”
Both Peconge and Hunter see lacrosse as a way for people to recognize the Miami tribe's connection to not only modern-day sports but to its culture as well. Hunter perhaps defined the Miami community best.
“We like to say we are a living people with a past, not a people of the past,” he said.