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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Now Is The Golden Era Of Iroquois Lacrosse
by Doug George-Kanentiio - Ottawa Citizen

On Sept. 18, an event of great historical importance will take place on Aboriginal territory: the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) Confederacy will host the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, the first global athletic event ever sponsored by a Native people.

Onondaga Redhawks #16 Neal Powless(left) and St. Catherines Saints #44 Mitch Dumont during action at Presidents Cup, national Senior B lacrosse championships, August 28, 2012 in Edmonton.
(photo by Rick Macwilliam - Edmonton Journal)

Of the 700,000 or so lacrosse players in North America, an enormous and growing talent pool, the Iroquois have at the most a couple of thousand players performing at all levels of the game: peewees, bantams, midgets, juniors, seniors, on the college level and as professionals.

At the world championships ( the Iroquois, from this shallow pool of highly skilled athletes, will take on the best lacrosse players from 13 nations and are expected to compete for the gold. Onondaga is 8 km south of Syracuse, NY.

This is, as many hope, the next step toward restoring lacrosse to the Olympics and having the Iroquois participate as a distinct team.

Lacrosse is a game invented by the Iroquois many generations before contact with the Europeans as an alternative to war and conflict among communities and nations and as a contest which promotes peace and physical healing.

At one time it was played by hundreds of contestants on fields stretching for a couple of kilometres long characterized by matches which lasted for days. It requires stamina, accuracy, mental and physical toughness and exceptional skills with the netted stick.

The Iroquois played the game throughout the summer. During the winter time, when the rivers and lakes were frozen, they unnetted their curved sticks and batted a ball across the ice, yelling “ha-gee!” whenever they were hit – the Mohawk word for “ouch” and a possible origin of the word “hockey.”

Once the Europeans had established large, stable towns they took to leisure activities and adopted lacrosse as a spectator sport. It became the official game for the new nation of Canada by the 1860s. It was adopted not only in the U.S. and Canada but was taken by the Mohawks across the ocean where games were played before English royalty and clubs formed thereafter.

But the Iroquois were perhaps too dominant and by the 1880s were banned as teams from national and international matches. There was one exception. At the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, lacrosse was a medal sport and the Canadians sent two teams: one made up of Non-Natives and the second composed of all Mohawks. The Native team won the bronze but the game itself was rejected as a medal sport with the exception of “exhibition” status in 1928, 1932 and 1948. At the Games in Los Angeles in 1932, the Iroquois played several teams but that was the last time they were acknowledged on the international level until the formation of the Iroquois Nationals in 1983.

When box lacrosse was created in 1930 to fill otherwise empty hockey arenas, the Iroquois found that version much more to their liking and skills with its emphasis on speed, hard checking and stickhandling.

The Iroquois formed local and travelling teams which crossed the country: stars such as Angus “Shine” George, Angus” Rock” Thomas, Robert Porter and Harry Smith (Jay Silverheels) filled stadiums from Vancouver to New York City.

With the arrival of the Second World War, box lacrosse faded for a while but it began to reclaim its popularity in the 1960s led by the legendary Gaylord Powless and followed by the formation of the National Lacrosse League in the 1970s. A few years later the Nationals gave international exposure to some of the best players in the world and led to a new National box lacrosse league with the All American Barry Powless leading the Rochester Knighthawks to prominence.

Other Iroquois were recruited to play at the college level with more All Americans: Neal Powless, Cody Jemison, Sid Smith, Gewas Schindler and the Tewaaraton winners Miles and Lyle Thompson.

The Golden Era has arrived. The Nationals proved their abilities when they won three consecutive silver medals in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships while the Iroquois Juniors won bronze for the field games in 2012, beating the Americans along the way.

In 2014 alone, the teams from Six Nations won three of Canada’s top lacrosse titles: Founders Cup, Mann Cup and the Minto Cup with the Onondaga Redhawks securing the President’s Cup as the top Senior B team.

The Game is rooted deep in Iroquois history and is bearing remarkable fruit. For the first time in modern history an aboriginal nation is hosting a world championship and it is appropriate that lacrosse is the sport.

It is inevitable that lacrosse will one day takes its place as an Olympic Sport and entering that arena will be the Iroquois Nationals, the purple and white banner declaring not only their dominance of the game but their standing as free nations in the world.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association and served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian. He was editor of the international journal Akwesasne Notes and is the author of “Iroquois on Fire” among other books. He may be reached via email:

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World Indoor Lacrosse Championship 2015
For the first time ever, the FIL (Federation of International Lacrosse) will hold the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships at the home of the game: The Onondaga Nation. This is a significant milestone – the Haudenosaunee, will step onto the world stage and carry their flag, exercise the sovereignty of indigenous nations, share their culture, field their national team, welcome guest nations, and proudly host the game of their ancestors.

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