Nina Polk is on fire!
Polk (Sičangu Lakota/ Diné (Navajo)/ San Carlos Apache/ Quechan) has taken social media by storm with her viral TikToks showcasing techniques, equipment, and teachings connected to traditional Great Lakes Lacrosse. The social media star has become something of a household name lately among many young lacrosse players and has been an amazing voice for Native people in the game today.
Nina began playing traditional lacrosse as a way to stay connected to her father, a former Haskell University basketball player.
“I was trying to find a sport to stay in love with because I had that little artistic side from my mom, but I also wanted to stay connected to my dad as well,” Polk said. “I was trying to find a sport to love and play and talk about with my dad.”
It was around the time that sport was starting to lose its appeal at all that Polk was introduced to traditional lacrosse. The family all took to the game, playing regularly in community contests organized by Twin Cities Native Lacrosse in the Twin Cities of Minnesota where the entire family has become a staple of the game. It was from there that Polk went on to play high school varsity, then Division II lacrosse at Fort Lewis College in Colorado.
As she progressed in modern lacrosse, Polk was often asked about the roots of the game from both teammates and coaches, many of whom didn’t know lacrosse has Indigenous roots.
“I met a lot of people in high school who didn’t know the origins of lacrosse,” she explained. “Even my coaches and [other] adults were asking me all these questions about it.”
Polk decided that social media could be a good outlet to spread that knowledge to a wider base of people. As she created more content on traditional lacrosse across several social media platforms, it was on TikTok that she started to gain some big attention. She created several videos on traditional Great Lakes-style lacrosse, showing some of her stick moves and explaining how the game is played. The videos exploded in popularity, quickly gaining attention on a number of lacrosse social media platforms and being shared widely by both Native and non-Native lacrosse players and fans.
“I could go places with this,” Polk said. “I could inspire others to do research or just learn the game.”
Over the summer, Polk was honored with a chance to take the field at a PLL game in Edina, Minnesota. The league recognized her and several other Native American college students for their achievements, but it wasn’t the last time the PLL would take a particular interest in what Polk is doing.
“One of the social media people that work for the PLL contacted me on Instagram asking if I wanted to be a part of PLL’s Native American Heritage Month posts,” she said.
The contact surprised Polk, but she rose to the challenge of representing on the biggest social media page in lacrosse. She will have her time to shine today on the PLL Instagram account as she takes over the page.
The opportunity alone was exciting, but there was one person who showed her a lot of direct support to make sure her voice was heard.
“Kyle Harrison actually DM’d me on Instagram, too, about that and that he’s seen my stuff as well and [that he’s] been following me for a while, so that was really cool to see!” Polk explained. “I was with my dad and trying not to fangirl about it, but I was just like ‘Oh my god! Huge fan! Thank you so much!’”
Beyond a cool fan experience, though, Harrison wanted to make sure that Polk’s voice came through.
“He was helping me a lot to make sure the PLL got my videos,” she said. “I really have him to thank.”
Nina Polk is part of a new generation of traditional lacrosse players and likely the first in many years to have had the game as a part of their lives from a young age. The game has become dormant in many Indigenous communities where it was once a common sight, a game that everyone was familiar with and most had played. This is beginning to slowly change as more people are taking interest in the traditional form of lacrosse and reviving the stick making and traditional practices associated with it. Today, the game can be found again in many places where it was not played for decades.
While the game is seeing a renaissance of players and stick makers within Indigenous communities, Polk is hoping for big things for all forms of traditional lacrosse.
“I would just love to have that recognition of the game in the public,” she said. “Like at least some kind of teaching for those who play the modern game to have [to know the] origins of lacrosse.”
She believes that these kinds of resources could emphasize that the game is used for healing and seen as something that can bring the community together. In her play and content creation, Polk always emphasizes the joy of the game, making the joy of playing and the bringing together of community the forefront of her message. She hopes that these positive teachings – teachings that are as old as the game itself – can reach a wide audience of players of all ages.
She admits that she does have hopes of seeing all forms of traditional lacrosse represented on a larger sporting stage.
“This may be a fantasy dream here, but I would just love it if there was some kind of sportswear advertisement, like Under Armor or Adidas, with one of those big pictures in the stores showing Indigenous players,” Polk said. “Like having a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) player with their stick or stick ball or any type of traditional lacrosse stick, that’d be big!”
Even in this dream, Polk brings the focus back to the community and the future of the game in players of the future.
“[I want to see] all these young players that are inspired in lacrosse and the traditional game [to have] articles on them,” she said. “I would love to see them achieve more than I have and just keep it going upwards.”
WIth talented players like Nina White Hawk Polk on the rise, the future for Native American youth in all forms of lacrosse has never looked brighter. You can follow Nina Polk on TikTok at nina_polk and Instagram @polknina.