Friday, July 14, 2006

The Religious Experience of Iroquois Lacrosse

Writing about Native Americans and lacrosse… so much potential for litigation inducing humor – libel, slander, political incorrectness, intentional infliction of emotional distress, etc. I’ll try to keep the law suits to a bare minimum.

But I can’t resist writing about the Iroquois (that's their flag in the upper left hand corner). I’m falling in love with this team. Seriously, anyone who isn’t rooting for them in any event – lacrosse, land wars, casinos, etc. – has no sense of justice.

The Iroquois won their first game, 13-10, against the British in this year’s World Lacrosse Championships. Talk about historic irony – the European power that did the most to bring down the Iroquois’s dominance in North America losing to the Iroquois. But that’s the way it should be. The Iroquois invented this game and if there’s any justice they’ll be playing the US (the sport’s dominant power) in the finals. Then get ready for a second helping of historic irony.

The Iroquois – also known as the Six Nations, after the nations that formed the Iroquois Confederacy – call themselves “Haudenosaunee,” or “People of the Longhouse.” I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what the Longhouse is, but I’m sure it kicks ass. (Just kidding – it’s symbolizes how the Six Nations live together as if in one house, a Native American version of “Can’t we all just get along.”) They largely occupied northern New York and Quebec, meaning that lacrosse saved them from being the first baseball fans to ignore the Expos and root for the Mets over the Yankees in order to spite New York City.

The Iroquois have a fascinating history in international sports, the only North American tribe that even competes in international games. The NCAA originally requested that the Iroquois put together a team for exhibition games against Canadian and American national champions. The Iroquois got pasted early on, but rebounded and eventually did so well that in 1990 the International Lacrosse Federation accepted them as a full member nation. Since then they have regularly been in the top five teams in the world. Suck on THAT, England and Spain!

Considering how violent lacrosse can be, it’s surprising that the Iroquois believe that it came to them from the Creator as a way of healing. The game is supposed to restore harmony between the people and the natural world, making it a holistic way of healing the body. Originally the field was very flexible – maybe 100 yards long, maybe 2 miles long. I guess it depended on how your legs were feeling that day. My favorite part, though, is that the game could be played with anywhere between 5 and a thousand players on each side.

One thousand players running around with sticks, knocking each other around over 2 miles? That’s not so much a sport as it is a minor war, right? Wasn’t this the fourth world war Albert Einstein predicted – “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Damn, the Iroquois completely redefined prescient.

The point of this is that playing against the Iroquois in lacrosse is like playing against Catholics in Eucharist. This is religion to them. This is important. We use fringe sports like lacrosse to build community, but in many ways the Iroquois are using lacrosse to rebuild community. It’s clear that they view with great pride their participation as a separate nation in the World Lacrosse Championships, as well they should. It represents their sovereignty and their unity as a people. Lacrosse – a fringe sport to center media but not to them – gives them that.

So it’s only right that they beat the crap out of England. And we should look out, they might be doing the same thing to the United States. But before then, they play Canada on Saturday, and we should all cheer them on to victory against Soviet Canuckistan.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:37 PM  

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