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Lacrosse at the Olympics gives Native Americans a chance to see their sport shine

Lacrosse at the Olympics gives Native Americans a chance to see their sport shine

Nearly 1,000 years after lacrosse was first played in the Haudenosaunee League, the sport will be on the Olympic schedule in 2028.

(Paul Newberry | AP) Louis Jarlo of the Haudenosaunee Nationals lacrosse team heads toward the sideline during a game against Canada at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, on July 24, 2022. Members of the Haudenosaunee Nationals lacrosse team hope they will have the opportunity to play the sport their people invented When lacrosse returns for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

One of the first gifts a member of the Onondaga Nation receives is called a “crib stick” — a small lacrosse stick given to infants that symbolizes the importance of the sport to the people who invented it.

Nearly 1,000 years after lacrosse was first played on fields that can sometimes stretch for miles across the Haudenosaunee League, the sport will be on the Olympic schedule in Los Angeles in 2028. New York and neighboring sections of Canada Whether a place in that tournament will be a question Which will keep the lacrosse world on edge from time to time.

The final decision will come down to whether the IOC will break with a decades-long tradition of only allowing participants from countries with a national Olympic committee, or whether it will find a way to include players under the Haudenosaunee (formerly known as the Iroquois) League. ) science. Such a move would pay homage to the game’s Native American roots in an ecosystem that is always striving for more inclusivity and diversity.

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“When I grew up in Onondagan, when we had a home game, the whole community would come out,” said Leo Nolan, executive director of the Haudenosaunee National Team. “It’s the spirit of the community, it’s not just a sport. It’s an integral part of who we are and who we are. How many other sports have that kind of potential, something that really has real meaning? I don’t know many sports that have the same spiritual meaning that it does.” this.

Working with World Lacrosse, the sport’s international federation, Los Angeles Olympic organizers relied heavily on the sport’s Native American history to sell the IOC on bringing lacrosse back to the Games as a medal event for the first time since 1908.

The story goes back much further, to around the year 1100. Tribes in northeastern North America often played games with more than 100 men on each side. Lacrosse was used to help tribes prepare for wars. It has been the focal point of social gatherings, a religious experience and also sometimes a diplomatic tool used to settle disputes. As the story goes, Canadian settlers liked what they saw when they first laid eyes on the game. A dentist named George Beers wrote the first rule book for the sport in 1867.

Founded in 1983, the Haudenosaunee National Team has been a regular participant in the World Championships since 1990.

“I caught a glimpse of it, and so did everyone else,” said one of the team’s founders, Rex Lyons, in an interview on the team’s website about how his people felt about being included in a global competition. “We talked about having our ancestors standing there next to us, and we said, ‘Look where lacrosse has taken us.’”

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In 2014, the Haudenosaunee men’s team won its first world bronze medal. Last year, at the World Olympics, the men’s team placed fifth (out of eight) and the women’s team placed seventh.

To compete there, they required approval from the Olympic committees of both the United States and Canada. The Irish team sacrificed its spot to allow the Haudenosaunee team to play. The decision for Los Angeles will ultimately rest with the International Olympic Committee, which did not immediately respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment on its plans, which have not yet been finalized.

“Together, we intend to find creative solutions that respect the heritage of the sport and allow the participation of Haudenosaunee athletes, while respecting the Olympic Games framework established by the International Olympic Committee,” a Los Angeles spokesperson said.

World Lacrosse CEO Jim Scherr also hopes there is an opportunity to include the federation.

“There’s a direct line from the origins of the game through their culture to today where they still participate,” Scheer said. “It’s the only sport they participate in. We think it’s a unique circumstance in the sport.

Honoring Haudenosaurianism’s role in the sport is “something we look back on and say is very cool and exciting,” said Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Pointing to the political realities of the situation, she said that if the IOC approves the Haudenosaunee route, “we will want to make sure that everyone feels that the process of getting there is very fair.”

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While the dream is for the Haudenosaunee to play on the biggest stage in the world, just bringing lacrosse back into the conversation at the Olympics is a victory of sorts, Nolan said.

“I think there are Olympian people involved who know that this is really important, not just for Indigenous communities, but for all of us,” Nolan said. “It’s an opportunity for us to share more and more about who we are and what we stand for.”


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