Manataka American Indian Council

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SPORTS FEATURE

 

Now Is the Golden Era Of Iroquois Lacrosse
by Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk

On September 18 of 2015 an event of  great historical importance took place on aboriginal  territory: the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois) Confederacy will host the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, the first planetary  athletic  event ever sponsored by a Native people.

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.

 

At the WILC (www.wilc2015.com: Onondaga is 8 km south of Syracuse, NY) the Iroquois, from this shallow pool of highly skilled athletes, will take on the best lacrosse players from 13 nations and are expected to compete for the gold.

This is, as many hope, the next step towards restoring lacrosse to the Olympics and having the Iroquois participate as a distinct team.

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.
 

 


 

Iroquois Nationals Overwhelm USA

by Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk
 

 

The Iroquois Nationals taught Team USA how to play the fine art of box lacrosse by giving the Americans a 17-10 thumping.

 

The Iroquois dominated every phase of the uneven contest from goaltending to an offense, showcasing their exceptional mastery of the stick, using a series of passes with thoroughy confused the Americans who at times stood still as if hypnotized by a ball which bounced off the floor, seemed invisible in the Iroquois sticks or disappeared with phantom shots coming from all angles.

 

The Iroquois changed their defensive tactics after their loss to Canada last Sunday. They kept the front of their goaltender clear, pressing the Americans far from the net, forcing them to take very low percentage shots from long range.  They fought for, and won, most rebounds while the goalie Angus Goodleaf, Kahnawake, protected the one area which the Canadians had exploited, his lower left side. 

 

The rout began in an odd fashion with the Americans scoring on their first two possessions. But the Iroquois scorched the US reeling off 9 straight, mostly from close up as they unravelled the American defenders by slicing  past the upraised stcks-no one seemed to inform the US that the Iroquois had mastered the skill of passing and shooting beneath the wait and along the floor.

 

By halftime the game was firmly in the grasp of the Iroquois.  They would not let the Americans rebound. Penalties were evenly spaced with a couple of five on three chances for the US but other than a few easy shots they could not take advantage of their opportunities. When the Americans did make a two goal run late in the third it was because they managed to get in close and behind the Iroquois defenders.  

 

One of the Americans copied an Iroquois move by scoring while leaping in front of Goodleaf but that was the exception. The hard checking, control of the boards and magic shots continued to find the net. Backhanders, one handed goals, over the goalie's shoulders and finding the smallest of spaces between the goaltender and the post-the ball went the Iroquois way. 

 

 And, unlike the game with the Canadians, only a few of their shots hit the goalposts. The final outcome was certain by the fourth period and the Iroquois, in an act of respect, played the last few minutes showing their control by passing back and forth, keeping a careful eye on the clock.  They could have, but did not, run up the score.

 


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