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.
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
At the world championships (www.wilc2015.com)
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
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
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
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 Canadas
top lacrosse titles: Founders Cup, Mann Cup and the Minto Cup with
the Onondaga Redhawks securing the Presidents 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
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: Kanentiio@aol.com
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.