Reconciling the History of Lacrosse
In honour and celebration of the 150th year of modern lacrosse, a traditional reenactment of the medicine game played between the Bear Clan and the Wolf Clan. Actors were from the Caughnawaga Survival School.
Lacrosse, known as the Creator's Game to Indigenous peoples, has a long and rich history that spans centuries. While the precise origins of lacrosse are disputed, many Indigenous nations claim that it was a gift from the Creator and has been played by their people for thousands of years.
The game was deeply intertwined with Indigenous cultures and was played for many purposes, including settling disputes, strengthening community bonds, and preparing young warriors for battle. The Haudenosaunee (also known as the Iroquois Confederacy) are often credited with the creation of the modern game of lacrosse, which they called "Tewaarathon." However, the game was also played by other Indigenous nations across North America, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Ojibwe, and Cree, among others. Each nation had its own unique variations on the game, but they all shared a deep respect for the spiritual and cultural significance of lacrosse.
Lacrosse was also deeply intertwined with spirituality and ceremony. Before games, players would often perform rituals to honor the Creator and ask for protection and strength. Winning teams would often offer thanks and gifts to the Creator and their opponents, emphasizing the importance of humility and respect.
During colonization, lacrosse became a means of resistance for many Indigenous communities. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, boarding schools and other institutions attempted to eradicate Indigenous cultures, including the game of lacrosse. The Haudenosaunee and other Indigenous nations continued to play lacrosse even as they were forced onto reservations and faced other forms of oppression. Many Indigenous people continued to play the game in secret, using it as a way to connect with their culture and resist assimilation.
The Medicine Game
To Indigenous peoples, the lacrosse stick is much more than just a tool for playing a game. It is imbued with spiritual and cultural significance, representing a connection to the Creator and to the natural world. The process of making a traditional lacrosse stick was a sacred one, often involving a journey of self-discovery and connection with the natural world. The materials used to make the stick, such as wood, animal hide, and sinew, were all carefully chosen and prepared with respect for the spirits of the plants and animals that provided them.
Once the materials were gathered, the process of crafting the stick was seen as a spiritual journey. The maker would often spend time alone in nature, seeking guidance and inspiration from the Creator and the spirits of the land. The process of carving the stick was seen as a way of channeling these spirits into the wood, imbuing it with their power and wisdom.
The finished stick was not just a tool for playing lacrosse, but a spiritual object that represented the connection between the player, the Creator, and the natural world. Players would often decorate their sticks with symbols and designs that held personal meaning and represented their spiritual journey.
The spirit of the lacrosse stick was also reflected in the way the game was played. Players were expected to show respect and humility towards their opponents, and to play with a sense of honor and integrity. Winning was not the ultimate goal, but rather, the process of playing the game with spirit and connection to the Creator and the natural world was what mattered most.
Even today, as lacrosse has become a more mainstream sport, many Indigenous players and communities still honor the spiritual and cultural significance of the lacrosse stick. They continue to craft traditional sticks by hand and use them in games and ceremonies, passing down the knowledge and traditions of the game to future generations.
The game was played with a small, hard ball made of deerskin or wood, and players used long sticks with a small netting at the end to catch and throw the ball. The rules varied between nations, but generally, the game was played on a large field with two goals at either end. In many Indigenous communities, lacrosse was seen as more than just a game - it was a way of life. The skills and values learned on the lacrosse field were carried over into other areas of life, such as hunting, warfare, and social interactions.
Today, lacrosse is a widely recognized sport that is played by people all over the world. However, it is important to recognize the deep cultural and spiritual significance of the game to Indigenous peoples and to honor their contributions to its development and preservation. The Haudenosaunee held the game of lacrosse in particularly high regard. Today, the Haudenosaunee National Lacrosse Team represents the Confederacy on the international stage and is widely recognized as one of the best lacrosse teams in the world. In recent years, there has been a growing movement to recognize the Indigenous roots of lacrosse and to honor the contributions of Indigenous players to the sport. This includes efforts to include more Indigenous perspectives in the coaching and administration of lacrosse programs.