⚓ Lacrosse Rooted in Tribal Tradition

Men from the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake (Caughnawaga) who were the Canadian lacrosse champions in 1869. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

By Grady Winston, Legends of America

It may not have the popularity of football, baseball or basketball, but the spirit of lacrosse is alive and well on fields and college campuses across the United States. The sport is even more popular with our neighbors to the north, where lacrosse serves as a dual national sport of Canada, alongside the spotlight-stealing sport of ice hockey. One thing that sets this sport apart from many others is its origins in Native American culture and is one of the oldest team sports originating in North America.


Lacrosse, considered to be America's first sport, was born of the North American Indian, christened by the French, and adapted and raised by the Canadians. (Photo Credit: Ashland Youth Lacrosse)

Lacrosse traces its origins to North American Indian tribes. Outside the United States and Canada, lacrosse is relatively unknown, although it will be featured at the 2017 World Games, in Poland for the first time. Lacrosse enthusiasts hope that means the sport may be one step closer to making it into the Olympic Games.

The full-contact, fast-moving sport of lacrosse was ideal for training young Native Americans in the art of battle, but lacrosse competitions also took the place of battle. When disputes arose over land or resources, tribes would agree to a contest instead of rushing into war. These contests would be scheduled at agreeable times for both tribes and would end the dispute with less bloodshed, though broken bones and severe injuries were not uncommon, and death was not unheard of in the contests.

Lacrosse may have served as a more sensible replacement for war, but it wasn’t solely a dispute-settler. The sport was also used by tribes to cultivate social relationships. Each tribe had different mythology regarding the origins of the game, and the ball was representative of the sun and the moon, which according to legend, the gods tossed back and forth in the original game.

The Basics

Modern day players in competition. 

Lacrosse as originally played by Native Americans wasn’t the same as lacrosse played by collegiate athletes today. There would have been no specialized tasks on the field, but an open field on which a player could move freely after the ball. This resulted not only in greater camaraderie on the field but on-field fights as well. The area could range from anywhere between several hundred yards to several miles, and goals could be anything from a boulder, a tree, or simply a designated area on the ground.

  • Sticks with netting, much like today’s rackets. However, preparing for the game was very similar to preparing for war. Players would adorn war paint and decorate their sticks with paint and feathers.
  • Small leather-hide balls, stuffed with animal hair. Some early versions of the ball were made from wood, while others were made of stuffed deer hide or even solid rubber
  • Boundaries, though much broader than today’s lines. Playing fields could go on for miles, and typically the game time lasted from sun up until sundown.
  • Each team was required to place wagers on the game, which included valued items, food or tools. The winner of the game would receive the prizes, which were on display during the game to spurn players on.
  • At the end of each game, there was a ceremonial feast for each tribe and their players, the original form of sportsmanship.

Children from various tribes participate in a traditional lacrosse tournament in the Black River Falls region of Minnesota. (Photo Credit: Lacrosse Allstars)

The object of the game was basically the same: to get the ball through the other team’s goal in order to score points, using body checks and stick checks as needed to steal the ball from the other team. However, in the Native American tradition, passing the ball from one player to another was seen as a trick, and dodging an opponent or their stick checks was seen as cowardly.

Honoring Heritage

Junior lacrosse players celebrating the Creator's Game. (Photo Credit: Lacrosse Allstars)

Many tribes throughout the U.S. and Canada have played lacrosse, including the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Cherokee and the Creek. Consider teaching your kids a sport that will also give them a lesson in culture – whether it’s a lesson from their own ancestry or a cross-cultural lesson about the country in which they live. Native tribes that used sport – rather than warfare – to settle disputes exhibited an enlightened approach to problem-solving that society could definitely benefit from today.

•  •  •

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Grady Winston is an avid internet entrepreneur and copywriter from Indianapolis. He has worked in the fields of technology, business, marketing, and advertising implementing multiple creative projects and solutions for a range of clients.

To view artist A. Aubrey Bodine's photography on the subject and other creative works: www.aaubreybodine.com

To see the original article, visit Legends of America who explores history, destinations, people & legends of this great country since 2003.

Three New Films Expose Native Music History

By Brian Wright-McLeod

News From Indian Country

Perhaps the first in depth overview of Native presence in and influence on popular music in America that influenced the world, is finely detailed through story, song and image. Full of archival photos and footage, interviews with family members, associates, and writers on Native music, Rumble manages to reveal this little known history.

Featured artists include Mildred Bailey, Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Jimi Hendrix, Pura Fe, Stevie Salas (the film’s executive producer), Redbone, Charley Patton, Monk Beaudreax (the Wild Tchoupitoulas), Taboo (Black Eyed Peas), John Trudell, Randy Castillo (Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue), author John Troutman and others.

One glaring omission was the exclusion of the author of The Encyclopedia of Native Music – the book that was the basis for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian exhibit “Up Where We Belong,” from where the film was derived.

The focus is purely American and belabors Black roots in popular music to the point of exhaustion thus deviating from other cultures that were just as important. For example, the Metis people of Western Canada, who extend predominantly from Cree and French/Scottish roots, and developed their own distinct language with a specific cultural, geographical, and musical heritage.

Elliot Easton, Nishi Boy Salas, Christina Fon, Wayne Kramer, and Scott Goldman at the special screening of Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, at the Grammy Museum. Check out Rumble's Facebook Page.

An award-winner at the Sundance Film Festival Story Tellers Award in 2017, Rumble went on to win the TIFF/Rogers Award for Best Canadian Documentary and Hot Docs Audience Award (Toronto, Canada).

Rumble provides an important overview of a music history that is only just beginning to be understood and told. The doc has since been released to Netflix and other platforms with a forthcoming DVD version to be released later this year.

There is no official soundtrack available, and due to clearance issues, it is doubtful that there will be one. Yet, the three-CD project The Soundtrack of a People (produced by Brian Wright-McLeod with EMI Music Canada) includes the majority of artists featured in the film.

When They Awake [independent]

Produced and directed by Pedro Marcellino and Hermon Farahi, When They Awake celebrates a cross-country overview of current Native music in Canada.

Following a year of filming a variety of artists from traditional drummers of Iqaluit to the club scenes of Vancouver, British Columbia and Toronto, Ontario, the filmmakers have amassed a sweeping documentation of an incredible movement.

Filmmaker Pedro Marcellino (center) during the 2017 Arctic Tour  

Featuring Tanya Tagak (Inuit), A Tribe Called Red, Susan Aglukark (Inuit), Iskwe (Cree), Leela Gilday (Dene), Derek Miller (Mohawk), and Logan Staats (Mohawk), the documentary also profiles more than 20 other artists.

Although Eastern Canada is absent, the omission was not intentional. “The original idea was to focus on the Inuit and other northern people,” Marcellino said. “We had no idea the film would grow to this magnitude. There is much more to come, and we hope to include the East too.”

Utilizing DAPL/Standing Rock, Idle No More and the effects 100 years of residential school system in Canada (1896 to 1996), this backdrop adds a texture to the music and its message. The film’s title is taken from a quote by historic Metis figure Louis Riel.

“As non-indigenous filmmakers, we hope to build bridges between communities, and to provoke thought, discussion, dialogue, and above all, long overdue recognition to the music and culture of Native people,” Marcellino said.

The film premiered at various 2017 film festivals including Las Vegas, Nevada; Montreal, Quebec; and Calgary, Alberta.

“It’s one of the best music docs I’ve ever seen and I’m extremely proud we presented it as our opening film,” said Calgary’s film festival executive director Steve Schroeder.

The Road Forward
[National Film Board of Canada]

Filmmaker Marie Clements’ The Road Forward is a musical that features piano bluesman Murray Porter (Mohawk), songwriter Russell Wallace (Stl’atl’imx), vocalists Cheri Maracle (Mohawk), Jennifer Kreisberg (Tuscarora), and others. Through song and performance, the film spins a tale of indigenous perspectives on history and current events.

On The Net: