Lacrosse is a popular sport played around the world today. It’s a fast-paced game. Players carry sticks with special woven pouches built to hold a small, hard lacrosse ball. Players on two different teams pass the ball with their sticks. They run down the field towards the other team’s goal and try to throw the ball in. The history of lacrosse is rooted in Native American sports traditions. Different styles of lacrosse were invented by different Native American tribes. Today, these tribes still play lacrosse to compete athletically and to connect with their cultural history.
The kind of lacrosse played commonly today is closely related to the version first played by the Haudenosaunee people. The Haudenosaunee are a group of Native American tribes from the northeast of the United States. Lacrosse has been played by the Haudenosaunee for many generations. The game is important to them both culturally and spiritually. Lacrosse is considered a gift from the Creator figure in the Haudenosaunee belief system. Lacrosse sticks represent the natural world and the Haudenosaunee’s connection to it. The woven pouch represents the ways that the families in the Haudenosaunee community are connected. Even the playing of a lacrosse game has special spiritual properties for the Haudenosaunee. It is sometimes considered a form of medicine. Special lacrosse events called medicine games are sometimes called when someone in the Haudenosaunee community needs help or support. This tradition dates back to the time when lacrosse was used to settle arguments between tribes. Because it was used to reconcile battling tribes, lacrosse is sometimes referred to as a medicine sport.
In the southeastern United States, many tribes, such as the Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Choctaw, have long played another version of lacrosse. Their version uses two sticks. This game is commonly known as stickball today. Instead of using one stick with a pouch, stickball players carry the ball between two sticks. The goal of the game is the same: to score points on the other team. However, unlike lacrosse, some stickball games require players to hit goalposts with the ball. Like lacrosse, stickball has a long history as a way to settle conflicts among Native tribes in the southeast. In these traditional matches, there were no limits on the number of players or the size of the field. Some stickball matches had several hundred players on each team! Stickball was used as a way to avoid bloody wars. Instead, tribes would gather and play huge, competitive stickball games. The name for stickball in the Choctaw and Cherokee languages actually means “little brother of war.”
For Native American tribes in the Great Lakes region, lacrosse has a different history. The Great Lakes are in the northern midwest of the United States and the southern part of Canada. There, the Ojibwe, Dakota, and other Native American tribes have played their own version of lacrosse for centuries. The sticks used in this form of lacrosse are slightly different from the Haudenosaunee-style sticks or the stickball sticks. Instead of having a pouch where the ball can sit, they have a flat hoop at one end of the stick. This hoop has very little netting. So instead of holding the ball in a pouch, players bounce the lacrosse ball from player to player. The word for lacrosse in Dakota, takapsicapi, means “to make a ball bounce or jump.”
Today, lacrosse is a popular sport around the world. It is played by Native American athletes in the North American Indigenous Games, a sports tournament for Native American athletes. It is also being considered for inclusion in the Olympic Games. Some Native American athletes are hoping that they will be able to compete in the Olympics under their tribal Nations’ flags. They feel that this is an important opportunity to represent their tribal heritage and their respect for the sport of lacrosse on an international field.