The Iroquois Nationals are Bringing the Creator's Game to the World
TURKU, Finland – When the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team steps on to the field for the 2012 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships, they will stand out even before the games begin. As the only sanctioned indigenous sports team playing internationally at the highest level of competition, they hold the distinction of bringing the “Creator’s game” to the world. And the other teams know it.
Though the journey was more than 36 hours for some team members, Iroquois Nationals General Manager Gewas Schindler said they were focused on getting rested and fueled for their first game on July 13 against England.
At the opening ceremonies here today, the parade of teams will feature young athletes from the Iroquois Confederacy, United States, Canada, Finland, Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, Scotland, Korea, Wales and the Netherlands. As other teams greet the sold-out audience in suits and sport clothes, many of the Iroquois Nationals and their delegation will wear traditional attire proudly representing their Native nations.
Unlike their competitors, the Iroquois Nationals bring hundreds of years of history playing lacrosse – not just for sport, but to build respectful camaraderie among nations, and for the healing energy that is expelled every time a game is played..
Their presence at the world games brings a sense of history, reminding the world that the Iroquois Confederacy, comprised of the Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Seneca, Tuscarora and Cayuga, has longstanding treaties and respectful relationships with other countries.
At home within the Six Nations, where lacrosse is literally a way of life, it is sometimes called the “medicine game,” reflecting the spiritual foundation of lacrosse.
Freeman Bucktooth, a citizen of the Onondaga Nation and the Nationals’ head coach, said his sons were given wooden lacrosse sticks shortly after birth. As toddlers, they were chasing balls and learning basic skills that were enhanced over many years of playing lacrosse.
“Boss,” as the team likes to call him, said one of his proudest moments was when his four sons, playing for the Onondaga Red Hawks, won the Senior B championship for the President’s Cup in 2010 against teams from Canada and the United States.
“To us, the game is not just about winning,” he said. “We play from the heart, with all the history and struggles of our people in mind, and if we win, it’s good. If we don’t, it’s still good, because we played for the Creator and our people, and we did our best. We are honored to show the world indigenous athletes from small nations can compete at the international level.”
He said this young team is particularly skilled because most of them grew up playing with and against each other since they were small boys.
“We don’t try to lure players from top teams the way many countries do. Instead, we raise our children to play lacrosse with a focus on the “good mind” and not just the technical skills of the game. They grow up together at home in our communities playing lacrosse for life.
“We put those sticks in their hands as babies, and it ends that way, too. When my father passed, my son put his stick in his casket so that he can play in the world beyond.”
Schindler, Oneida Indian Nation and grandson of an Onondaga chief, is the youngest general manager to ever lead the Iroquois Nationals. As a star college player for Loyola University in Baltimore, he was named to the All American national team three times and earned a reputation for being an exemplary player – someone who is grounded in his community and carries the cultural teachings of the Creator’s game. Schindler was recruited by the Buffalo Bandits and played with pro teams for nine years, including the New York Titans, Philadelphia Wings and Colorado Mammoths.
Schindler said his team, coaching staff and management are prepared to take on well-financed teams like the United States and Canada, though they lack the expensive sports facilities, trainers, travel budgets, equipment and financial backers that other teams enjoy.
“We often play on dirt fields and it’s a constant struggle to raise enough money to finance our travel to world competitions. We’re thankful to those who have supported us and continue to seek sponsors.”
Schindler said they must raise $300,000 to cover travel expenses for the two weeks of international competition, and often travel on a shoestring budget, supported by faith, prayers and the generosity of supporters.
Still, the Nationals play on and continue to build world-class teams, graduating players into coaches and management.
“The individuals on our coaching team are very special, each an alumnus of the Iroquois Nationals program, bringing many exceptional skills in which to share with the youth of our nations during this new decade of pride for the Haudenosaunee. I think we brought our best.”
The players on this year’s team range in ages from 15-19 years old and include: Frank Brown, Hank Delisle, Orris Edwards, Seth Oakes, Ky Tarbell, Anthony Patterson, Johnny Powless, Quinn Powless, Randy Staats, Brendan Bomberry, Jake Bomberry, Wenster Green, Zach Miller, Lyle Thompson, Chris George, Kyle Isaacs, Jesse Jimerson, Tyler LaFonte, Korin Sunday, Oakley Thomas, Trey Adams, Warren Hill, Vaughn Harris, Dalston Day, and Tyson Bomberry.
Coach Ansley Jemison, Seneca, said he was hoping they would be able to bring at least one of the wampum belts that are living documents of the treaties between nations. Jemison works with youth through Cornell University’s American Indian Program, and sees history in the making.
“It’s important that the world understand that Indian nations still hold treaty rights and continue to perpetuate our cultures through everyday life. Lacrosse is more that just a sport; it’s been a way of life among our people since the beginning.”
Follow Jemison’s coaching blog from the games here.
Created in 1983, the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse teams represent the Haudenosaunee and all original peoples worldwide in international competition. Long acknowledged as the originators of the modern game of lacrosse, the Haudenosaunee have been a member nation of the Federation of International Lacrosse for nearly 30 years.
The Iroquois Nationals U-19 team will play their first game at 4:00pm on July 13against Team England. They will also play the United States, Czech Republic, Canada, Finland, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, and Australia in the tournament.
For game schedule and more on the FIL, click here.
For Iroquois Nationals merchandise and more on the team, go to their website here.
The games can be live streamed here.