Beyond the Bronze: The Iroquois Nationals Come Home as Champions in Many Respects

Valerie Taliman
7/28/12

Gewas Schindler, the youngest General Manager in Iroquois Nationals history, is very focused on keeping the “good mind” in lacrosse and in life.

A citizen of the Oneida Indian Nation and grandson of an Onondaga chief, Schindler grew up surrounded by traditional leadership, playing lacrosse as a way of life, then and now.

“I started late. I was five or six by the time I started playing, and all my friends had played since they were three or four,” he said.

But he soon found he had talent, and went on to become a three-time All American who enjoyed a nine-year career in the pros before coaching and moving into management.

Last week, after the Iroquois Nationals won the bronze medal at the Federation of International Lacrosse 2012 U19 World Championships and made history as the first team to beat the USA (15-13) since the founding of the FIL, Schindler was reflective as they settled back into lacrosse routine.

“We had a team of superb athletes who were able to work together as a tight unit and make the Haudenosaunee proud with our historic participation and win at the world games,” he said. “We were able to hear the Iroquois national anthem and see our flag flying at this international event with the world acknowledging the legacy of the Iroquois Confederacy’s role in lacrosse.”

In addition to the bronze medal, the Iroquois Nationals had three players named to the All-World Team: Attack Seth Oakes, Midfielder Lyle Thompson and Goalie Warren Hill.  Hill was also named Most Outstanding Goalie and Thompson was selected Most Outstanding Midfielder.

“We feel like we fulfilled a historic goal for our team, for the Haudenosaunee, and for indigenous peoples worldwide,” he said.  “We’ll carry all that good will and continue as we prepare for the 2014 games in Denver. We received so many messages from people, and we’re grateful for the tremendous support we enjoyed from Indian Country and fans worldwide.”

The journey to the 2012 competition had a deeper meaning for Schindler and the Nationals – it was also about identity and self-determination.

Once again the Iroquois Nationals were traveling to the world games on Haudenosaunee passports as an elite team of goodwill ambassadors, as the originators of the “Creator’s game,” that they share with the world.

As founding members of the Federation, the Iroquois presence at the world games lends a sense of ceremony, history and spiritual connection to the roots of lacrosse.

Their absence at the 2010 world games was the buzz of the tournament,  and teams in Turku were excited to see the Iroquois back for international field competition.

Schindler was on the Iroquois Nationals men’s team that was denied entry into England for the 2010 World Championships in Manchester, touching off a media storm that highlighted the longstanding rights of the Haudenosaunee to travel on their own passports as they had been for 30 years.

In the end, the team was stranded in New York lacking visas from England, unable to compete for the gold. “We were beat by paperwork, “ Schindler said with a smile.

This time, things were quite different.

On the 2012 journey to Turku, visas were issued, passports accepted and history made by an exceptional group of Native athletes and coaches that proved the Iroquois are capable of competing against countries, despite their small pool of players.

When the Iroquois took on Team England in their first game, they played with a skill and vengeance that resulted in a 24-2 win over a team they had not been allowed to play in Manchester. That was followed by a 17-9 win over Australia.

Their historic 15-13 upset over the United States was called the “game of the tourney.”  The win was the first ever by the Iroquois over the USA, which had not lost in 24 years in the U-19 World Lacrosse Championships.

The Nationals then lost a second game to Team USA before beating England again 18-1 for the bronze medal.

At the opening ceremonies, on the field, and in the local town, the Iroquois Nationals attracted a large fan base throughout the tournament.  That support was evident at home as well, with the team’s Facebook page blowing up with 1,000 new fans per day and words of encouragement posted by hundreds of well-wishers.

As head coach of the Iroquois Nationals, “Boss” Freeman Bucktooth said his team’s defeat of the USA was “pretty amazing.

“The guys came out to play and showed what they could do. We've got a lot of talent on the team and a great coaching staff, and we put everything together. You’re going to see a lot of these guys on the men’s team at the world championships in Denver in 2014.”

“We went to visit the Council of Chiefs to share news about all the positive achievements of our team, and they were very proud,” Freeman said.  “The Iroquois Nationals were exceptional ambassadors with exemplary behavior.”

The team just learned that the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County officials will issue a proclamation designating July 28as Iroquois Nationals U19 Lacrosse Day.

Oren Lyons, Onondaga Faithkeeper and Chairman of the Iroquois Nationals Board of Directors, said, “The victories of the Iroquois Nationals in the world games serves notice to the world that they are a powerhouse to beat.  Our boys will be preparing for the world field lacrosse championships and we’ll meet Canada and the USA again.

“We’re very pleased that the longstick game of the Iroquois is being played around the world following our tradition.  We keep the spiritual foundation of it strong.”

The event will be part of the Stage of Nations Blue Rain ECOfest, a celebration hosted by Syracuse University, the National Grid, The Onondaga Nation, and other sponsors to merge Haudenosaunee values and environmental stewardship with eco-friendly vendors, educational booths, Native American crafts, and entertainment.
The festival will feature Haudenosaunee dancers, Native American Music Award winner JANA and Grammy Award winner Joanne Shenandoah. Also appearing on stage will be Morris and the Hepcats, Los Blancos, and The Fabulous Ripcords.

“It’s impressive for Syracuse to being doing something like this,” said Schindler.  “A lot of our team will be away playing lacrosse, but the management and coaches will be there.

“Something like this changes attitudes about Native peoples and we’re very pleased and honored that the achievements of our team are being acknowledged.  Things are working out in good ways.  Like I said, when we win, you win.”

Check out this video on the Nationals.

For a selection of our video reports on the Nationals, click here, here and here.

For more information on the team, visit iroquoisnationals.org/

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