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Lacrosse: An Iroquois Tradition

Played throughout the world today, the sport of lacrosse is derived from a Haudenosaunee game of great antiquity.

This game required the greatest skill for catching, carrying, and passing a ball using only the basketlike head of the lacrosse stick. Quickness, stamina, and strength were equally important to play the game well.

Oneidas and other Iroquois loved the game passionately as entertainment and physical conditioning but lacrosse was also a religious celebration. The Oneida Creation Story, for example, describes a Spirit World which preceded our earth and hangs above it. The residents of that sky land lack sickness and death. They know only happiness -- possibly because they enjoy lacrosse.

The great oral tradition which recounts the beginning of the Iroquois Confederacy specifies that the young warriors staged a lacrosse game for Hayewat-ha, one of the League founders, to console him for the loss of his children.

Lacrosse is pleasing to the Creator but it is also a rite sacred to the Thunders, the seven honored elders (Grandfathers) who move across the sky from west to east cleansing the earth with winds and rains. In some Iroquois communities, lacrosse is prescribed (through a dream or by a fortuneteller) as a curing ritual.

Historical Descriptions of Oneida Lacrosse

Joseph Bloomfield, 1776
Two grand matches were made up between the Oneidas and Tuscaroras...Near 100 Dollars worth of their ornaments were staked each time, which were gained by the Tuscaroras. The Oneidas had been used to beat them at all these matches till this day. At these matches the ornaments staked are generally collected from the women who generously give some of their wampum, silver, bead bracelets, earrings, jewels and pins. Others give necklaces, belts ,etc. and all kinds of Indian ornaments. They are remarkable fair in their play. Nothing that has the appearance of cheating nor any wrongdoing are seen on those occasions.

Paolo Andreani, 1790
During the months of harvest this nation [Oneida] does not go hunting except in the event of some extraordinary need; usually during this time the men amuse themselves almost every day with a game which consists of tossing a ball about. Each player is furnished with a kind of racket about four feet six inches long which at the small end curves somewhat and like the string of a bow serves to throw the ball. He who succeeds in catching it with this instrument in turn tosses it in this fashion while preventing others from touching it until it has made a determinate number of circuits of a great field...This game requires agility accompanied by skill.

Lacrosse is Back!

A centerpiece of the Oneida Nation's cultural renaissance, this ancient tradition has been brought back into the daily lives of Oneidas after long decades of poverty and despair. Once again, Oneidas are busy honing their playing skills and custom-designing their own lacrosse sticks in the exacting process of shaping hickory wood cured for nearly two years.

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