Now Is the Golden Era Of Iroquois Lacrosse

by Doug George-Kanentiio
Akwesasne Mohawk

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.

 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 kilometers 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 and 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 the 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 becoming the official game for the new nation of Canada by the 1860’s. It was adopted not only in the US and Canada but was taken by the Mohawks across the ocean were games were played before English royalty and clubs formed thereafter.

But the Iroquois were perhaps too dominant and by the 1880’s were banned as teams from national and international matches.  Yet 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 ice hockey arenas the Iroquois found that verions much more to their liking and skills with its emphasis on speed, hard checking and stickhandling.

The Iroquois formed local and traveling 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 World War II box lacrosse faded for a while but it began to reclaim its popularity in the 1960’s led by the legendary Gaylord Powless and followed by the formation of the National Lacrosse League in the 1970’s. 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 long 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 secured 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.

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