The Native American Origins of Lacrosse – HISTORY

    Lacrosse, America’s oldest team sport, dates back to 1100 AD. C., when it was played by the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, in what is now New York and the areas of Canada that border the state.

    Early versions of lacrosse games played by Native American nations included 100 to 1000 men or more using wooden bats, sometimes with attached net baskets or pockets, and small balls wrapped in deerskin. deer tendon formed webs. borderless fields could span miles and games could last for days.

    Reading: When was lacrosse invented

    “Lacrosse was an integral part of Native American culture,” says Joe Finn, archivist at the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum. “It was played to prepare them for war, and it was also a social event where the tribes came together for trade and sport. it was sometimes used to settle disputes.”

    Native American oral traditions cite the first game of lacrosse played between birds and mammals. Some Native Americans believe that the sport was a gift from the creator to be used for medicine and enjoyment.

    read more: Native American cultures

    Neal Powless, a member of the Onondaga Nation, a former pro on the Iroquois national lacrosse team and a three-time college all-american, says the sport is part of the Haudenosaunee’s founding story.

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    powless points to an origin version of “rematriation” in which a young woman and a boss, living in the sky world, or in a multiverse space, must marry in order to save their universe from destruction. but her attention is drawn to a lacrosse player who then dives through an open hole in the multiverse to save her, and they mate before she lands on earth.

    “Lacrosse is part of the story of our creation, of our identity, of who we are,” says powless. “so when we play we always say that there is a simultaneous game in sky world and our ancestors are playing with us.”

    the influence of Europeans on lacrosse

    In 1600s Quebec, French missionaries first witnessed Native Americans playing the game, according to Finn. “It was given the name ‘lacrosse’ because the missionaries thought the sticks resembled the bishop’s cross that is carried during religious ceremonies,” he says.

    Early Native Americans played barefoot, without equipment, and with a loose set of rules. European settlers established stricter rules for the sport.

    Lacrosse evolved in Canada, where it was named a national sport in 1859. In 1867, George Beer, a Montreal dentist, wrote the first rules for the sport. “He once took a team of white and first-nation lacrosse players to England and played Queen Victoria,” Finn says.

    “The game…very nice to watch,” the queen wrote in her diary after the Iroquois-Canadian game, according to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum. “you play with a ball and there is a lot of running.”

    lacrosse as medicine for Native Americans

    Ceremonial medicine games are still played in Haudenosaunee communities to heal the sick, according to Powless. the onodaga play an annual spring game with male participants of all ages.

    “Players will spawn with no pads, no gear, just their wooden stick,” he says, adding that teams are determined by clan, house, or age. “And the ages are those who can walk. you’re going to have 7-year-olds running with 80-year-old men in the same field.”

    each community has its own rules and variations, he adds, and games are often played without a timekeeper, without penalties or referees.

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    “Lacrosse isn’t just a game, it’s medicine, it heals,” he says powerlessly. “You hear over and over again how the spirit of sport itself has healed people because they believe it is a medicine that speaks to the spirit and the soul.”

    lacrosse today and other facts

    Canadian John Flannery, who founded the U.S. national amateur lacrosse association in 1879, established lacrosse in the united states when his employer transferred him to brooklyn, says finn.

    Contemporary lacrosse, dubbed “the fastest game on two feet” in 1921 by a baltimore sun sportswriter, takes place on a field with players using sticks with a net attached to one end to catch, carry , pass and shoot a small rubber ball. ball into the opposing team’s goal.

    The first women’s lacrosse game took place in Scotland in 1890, and the first American women’s team was formed in 1926 at a Baltimore high school. Lacrosse was played at the 1904 and 1908 Olympics, and as a demonstration sport in 1928, 1936, and 1948. In 2021, the International Olympic Committee gave the sport full recognition, paving the way for a possible return of the Olympics in 2028.

    finn says that the development of mass-produced lighter, easier-to-handle metal and plastic clubs in the late 1960s and early 1970s made the game faster and increased scoring.

    but it’s the spirit of the game that remains most important to powless. refers to the thompson brothers, prominent professional lacrosse players and members of the onondaga nation.

    “They’ll say we don’t play because of the name on the back of our jersey or the name on the front,” he says. “we play for the creator and that we will have a good game and the score will be whatever the result, we will do the best we can.”

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