How are Lacrosse Sticks Made? 

How was Lacrosse Traditionally Played?

What is happening with Haudenosaunee Lacrosse today?

  
by Kanatiiosh


Photo: Handmade Wooden Lacrosse Stick by Alf Jacques

Traditionally the Iroquois played lacrosse with a curved wooden stick, a lacrosse stick, that had a woven net at one end and a ball. The ball was made from deerskin or the knot of a tree. 

The wooden lacrosse sticks were hand-carved from hickory. The length of the stick is about 48 inches. Today many lacrosse players use sticks made from plastic.  However, there are still Iroquois artisans, like Alf Jacques at the Onondaga Nation, who makes wooden sticks for many Iroquois players who prefer the traditional style. 

Jacques carefully harvests hickory trees by selecting straight trees with few knots that will make the best sticks. When he harvests a tree, he plants a new one in its place because he understands and respects the Great Circle of Life and conservation. Jacques hand carves the sticks and bends them into shape.

 

The curved end off the traditional wooden stick has a webbed network that is woven in a way to create a pocket. This webbing allows the ball to be caught, thrown, and carried. The webbing originally was made from slippery elm bark. The bark was boiled until it was soft. The boiled bark fibers were twisted to form lacing for the webbing. In addition to slippery elm bark, sinew was used to create the webbing. Today the web, even in the traditional stick, is made from nylon, leather, and sinew.

 


The webbing is an important part of the lacrosse stick because players are not allowed to touch the ball using their hands or feet. Therefore, the webbing has to be pulled tight enough to allow players to throw the ball, but loose enough for the ball to be caught and carried. 

Teams play against each other. The size of the teams varies, but is generally between six to eight players per side. Interestingly, in 1797, one recorded Iroquois lacrosse game was played with over 600 players per team, and was played across miles. Sometimes they would play while traveling from one village to the next.

The object of the game is to throw or carry the ball into the opposing teams door (goal). A point is given for each goal made. Playing lacrosse takes great skill, strategy, quickness, stamina, and determination. 

The door is protected by a door guard (goalie). The size of the goal and the length between the doors was determined by the number and the skill of the players. All of these rules were determined and agreed upon by the players before the game began. 

Traditionally the door posts were constructed from wooden poles that were between 10 and 15 feet tall. The poles were buried about 3 feet into the ground and spaced from 5 to 15 steps apart from each other. The opposing doors were between 220 to 440 yards apart. Lacrosse is usually played in spring, summer, and fall. 

Today, the Iroquois Nationals, which is composed of members of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora, are the only Indigenous Nation in the world participating at the International level in sports competition. The Iroquois Nationals are a world-class team, which they proved In 1998, when they beat England, 10-9, in the World Games in Manchester, England. 

In many ways, the Iroquois Nationals are ambassadors of the Iroquois as they breathe the spiritual aspects of the game back into the competition. They do so on an international and local level. When the Iroquois Nationals are not practicing or traveling world-wide, they are traveling to different native communities conducting clinics to keep the tradition alive and strong. 

Today many native communities have lacrosse teams. The game is strong and being played for the Creator's enjoyment and to heal the communities.  Four men who played for the Onondagas in the 1930's are being inducted into the Central New York Chapter United States Lacrosse Hall of Fame. These four men are Irving Powless Sr., Stanley Pierce Sr., Lyle Pierce, and Oren Lyons Sr.
The Iroquois always begin and end a lacrosse game by offering a prayer of thanksgiving. Lacrosse is more then just a game for the Iroquois, for it is a part of their spirituality. It is a way to heal the community and individual people, and it is woven into their traditional stories. It is a way of life. Lacrosse is truly the life blood of the Six Nations.


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Page created May 2001: Updated December 2001


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