JU Women: Breaking Barriers: How Scanlan is Making Waves in the Indigenous Lacrosse World

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via JU press release – by Chelsea Roemer

Her long black hair bounces off her shoulders as she rushes down the field with her eyes locked on the goal, her hands gripped tightly around her lacrosse stick. Once she slings the ball with force past the goalkeeper, she erupts into celebration. Miya Scanlan is embraced by her teammates as she has just scored her sixteenth goal for Gowanda High School, shattering the New York state record for goals in a single high school girls lacrosse game. However, it does not come as a surprise to anyone who knows Scanlan that she is already having success in her lacrosse career at such a young age. 

Scanlan spent her upbringing on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in Irving, New York. She was raised by Jodi and Charlie Scanlan and is the fifth of 11 children, the oldest being 29 years of age and the youngest three. By the time they take their first steps, Scanlan and her siblings are introduced to the sport and participate in competition, especially against each other.

“There is a lacrosse field on the reservation, and we play against each other or practice together all the time,” Scanlan said. “My youngest sibling even has a lacrosse stick to play with, and they all help me learn and grow with the game.”

For the Scanlan family, lacrosse serves as more than a passion because it is deeply rooted into their Native American culture as members of the Seneca tribe and the wolf clan. The Seneca were the largest of six Native American nations which comprised the Iroquois Confederacy. Lacrosse is known for contributing to the values of diversity, preparation, creativity, integrity, and generosity. Various indigenous tribes have openly stated that the desire to play is in their blood. 

In Native communities’ lacrosse is also referred to as the “medicine game.” Lacrosse is known as the Creator’s Game because it originated to entertain the higher power known as the Creator and was often used to solve disputes and unify communities. The spiritual aspects of the game have always made lacrosse a source of healing, joy and national pride for the Haudenosaunee people, allowing them to express and maintain their culture, and to share it with the world.

“No one outside of the culture really understands how big lacrosse is and how much our lives involve the sport,” Scanlan said. “People are not truly educated about where the game has come from and the background is something I hope to talk more about.”

Part of what makes Scanlan’s success unique is lacrosse being originally viewed by the tribes as a sport to be played strictly by men. Traditionally in indigenous culture, boys are given their first lacrosse stick quickly after birth, and men are buried with their favorite sticks when they die to be ready to play upon greeting the Creator in the afterlife.

While lacrosse is one of the most rapidly growing sports in the country among men and women, indigenous cultures have only mildly included women in recent years. Growing up, Scanlan had the opportunity to travel with a club team and founded the Gowanda High School lacrosse program alongside her father.

“There was a point where it was really tough because some of the elders still did not want women to play lacrosse and there were not a lot of opportunities for teams in the area,” Scanlan said. “Once the high school program was started all the girls that joined had never played before except for me, so it was all about going back to the basics.”

About 75 percent of athletes on Scanlan’s high school roster are from a Native American reservation, and more women are seeking opportunities to continue their careers at the collegiate level. 

Lottie Gill, who served as her lacrosse coach during her final high school season, also grew up competing on a reservation. As a member of the Tuscarora Nation snipe clan, Gill understands the struggle regarding opportunities for women to compete and the change that is rapidly occurring.

“It was always frowned upon by our clan mothers to see women playing lacrosse when I was growing up,” Gill said. “My mom was a member of the Iroquois Nationals women’s team in the 80’s, which was forced to disband in 1987 after the team was preparing to play an exhibition game in Syracuse, New York and Onondaga clan mothers threatened to lie down on the field in protest. Rather than go against the wishes of their elders, they disbanded.”

Scanlan knew she wanted to compete at the next level as early as junior high.  Her older sister, Shayla, spent four years competing at the Division I level for Louisville, while her older brother Clay made a roster in the National Lacrosse League.

“My parents always took me to go watch Shayla play at Louisville when I was younger,” Scanlan said. “Consistently watching her has really helped me with my game and really made me want to compete at the next highest level.”

Scanlan verbally committed to becoming a Dolphin her junior year of high school and signed her National Letter of Intent in November of 2020, after participating in a JU lacrosse camp and taking an unofficial visit.

Jacksonville’s women’s lacrosse team has developed a reputation of being one of the top programs in the country, but it was the support system and atmosphere off the field that factored into her decision.

“I chose JU because it is very family oriented, coming from a large family it was helpful to have that feeling with me here,” Scanlan said.  “Additionally, I love the program’s style of play, plus everyone here was incredibly warm and welcoming,”

 Although Scanlan has yet to make her official collegiate debut, she is already making an impression on a national level. She was recently selected as a member of the Iroquois national team and is competing in the World Lacrosse Super Sixes event in Sparks, Maryland, Oct. 23 – 24.

This is her first time representing a national team and she will be listed on the roster alongside her older sister Lauren and some of her cousins. 

The super sixes serve as another evaluation for the final roster for The World Games that will take place next July in Birmingham, Alabama. This is the first time that lacrosse will be included in the World Games, and the hope is that lacrosse will then be included in the 2028 Olympics Games in Los Angeles.

“Receiving this opportunity is exciting because it is another chance for me to have a trial to potentially make the Olympic team,” Scanlan said. “On top of that it gives me the ability to represent my culture and that is something I will always be proud of.”

Though Scanlan has been far from home since making her way to Northeast Florida, her support system is still intact and making sure to follow along with her in every step of the process.

Not only is she serving as a role model for her younger siblings and extended family, but to the girls who are hoping to one day achieve similar accomplishments.

“Miya is a once in a generational talent and the lacrosse players here at Gowanda really look up to her and admire everything she has done for the game and for the program,” Gill said. “We are so excited to watch her freshman season and just know she is going to make us proud.”

The coaching staff at Jacksonville has also expressed support for her ability to bring awareness of the game, with the goal of helping Scanlan achieve greatness at the next level and reach all of her goals.

“The game is rapidly growing across the board and it’s amazing that she has this platform to advocate and bring awareness to the sport,” assistant coach Mike Bedford said. “She is going to be able to look back twenty or thirty years from now and say ‘I was a part of that, I was one of the first ones to do that’.”