Lacrosse: Ancient Haudenosaunee Game


by Wi:se Atonwah 


Lacrosse is the national sport of Canada, not hockey as so many people falsely think. As a matter of fact, Queen Victoria sanctioned lacrosse as the national sport in the 1800s. The reason for the Queen making Lacrosse the national sport was greatly influenced by the Mohawks who had teams playing all over the world and even went to England, which was quite a feat in the 1800s. 

The Iroquois Nationals today stand as the only Indigenous Nation worldwide participating in international sports competition. "It is with pride that the Iroquois Nationals have been able to endure and sustain the challenges of international competition, and Iroquois people continue the tradition of excellence in Lacrosse." To read more about The Iroquois Nationals Team that has competed in the 1998 World Field Lacrosse Championships in Baltimore, MD, in which, out of eleven nations, the Iroquois took fourth place, the best showing for a National team and to see photos of the players please click on this link: The Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team

A Haudenosaunee Tradition

The Haudenosaunee (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora) game of lacrosse is very ancient and in fact it pre-dates the existence of the human race itself in the world.  Before the human beings were ever even created by the Creator, the game of Lacrosse was already in existence. Of course too, long before the above Nations were unified into a Confederacy and called Haudenosaunee the game of lacrosse was already established among them. 

The game of Lacrosse is traced all the way back to the Haudenosaunee Creation Story to a time when this world as we know it was still very new and the work of Creation was almost complete. According to the Haudenosaunee Creation Story just before the human beings were created there was a struggle for control of the world between Sapling also known as Teharonhiawakon (Holder Of The Heavens) and Flint also known as Sawiskera (Mischievous One).

They decided to have a contest to determine who would become the One to control the World. The first contest between them was a variation of the Game of lacrosse as we know it today. They played lacrosse from sunrise to sunset with neither of them being victorious over the other, so they went on to other contests. Eventually after a number of other contests Teharonhiawakon finally won over Sawiskera and became the Great Creator who later was responsible for the creation of the human beings in the world.  In his defeat Sawiskera was killed but yet, at the same time, did not die and he was banished in defeat down into deep underneath caverns and to forever remain in that place of darkness, never to come out into the light of day in the world, for that is the time and place of the Good-Minded Twin, (Teharonhiawakon), our Great Creator. 

After the Great Creator made the human beings, he passed on the information about his origins and the origins of this world and the struggles between him and his brother to the Onkwehonwe (Real People - the name the Haudenosaunee use in referring to Native Americans in general - the Red race). This information passed on became known as the Creation Story and because of the nature of the volumes of information and instructions preserved within it can also be cited as our Original Instructions from the Creator. 

Additionally, some of the information handed down to the Onkwehonwe by the Great Creator in the beginning, as preserved and contained within the Haudenosaunee Creation Story, were further given to us transformed as Sacred Rites, Rituals and Ceremonies. These in this form were also a kind of insurance that we would never forget our Original Instructions from the Great Creator. One of these was the Game of Lacrosse. The game of lacrosse is not just a game, an ancient game, but it is also a Sacred / Spiritual Game. 

The game of lacrosse thereafter in its Sacred / Spiritual application / form became a "medicine game" - one of the ancient sacred healing/curing rites. Ceremonial or Medicine Lacrosse Games are normally prescribed by a medicine person and special games under ceremony are still done as required in this day and age. Once a person in need of such a ceremonial or medicine lacrosse game has this done they thereafter are automatically part of that medicine society for the rest of their lives. Renewals of the medicine are most often done at the Midwinter Thanksgiving Ceremonial (the Haudenosaunee equivalent to New Years), a time when all of Creation renews itself, and thereafter a New Year begins according to Nature's own clock. During this time medicine Lacrosse games are done for purposes of renewing the medicine for past patients, and this time both the lacrosse medicine society and the people's personal medicine are renewed simultaneously.

When ceremonial lacrosse games are played the players are also remembering the origins of the game - remembering that it is the Great Creator's game, and so also in remembering these things are of the mind that they are playing for or on behalf of the Great Creator. So while each team is playing each one has it in mind to win the game on behalf of the Great Creator. The spectators are also remembering these things too and it all adds to the fun, excitement and spirit of the game. It is also said that the two brothers -
Teharonhiawakon and Sawiskera are monitoring the games too - each from the places where they dwell. For it is said too that they are still in contest with each other and both take some pleasure in monitoring the affairs of the human beings. They are honored by seeing the Onkwehonwe still continuing to follow this part of the Original Instructions and that we still remember them.  For together although in opposition to each other do create or influence balance in the world. 

Much more can be said and written about the Ancient Haudenosaunee Game of Lacrosse. This has only been a brief outline giving some historical details tracing its origins as well as attempting to show some of its spiritual roots and significances.

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