There is only one sport played by people that wasn’t invented by humans. That sport is called Tewaaraton, and the people who play it are called the Haudenosaunee. You may know these things better by their Europeanized labels: the sport is lacrosse and the people are the Iroquois. They believe lacrosse is the “Gift of the Creator,” to help them be healthy, resolve disputes, demonstrate creativity and to share a ton of joy. As such, it is way more than sport, it is their “Medicine Game.”
Over the past 500 years, the Iroquois have taught the world their game, while struggling to maintain their sovereignty. They have dealt with the Dutch, French and English, with individual American states, and with the United States itself. (They may even have influenced the framework of our Constitution with their governance model.) And they have succeeded. Today, the Iroquois Confederacy is an independent nation, and its citizens carry Iroquois passports when they travel internationally.
Which recently caused a problem. In 2010, the paper passports issued by the Iroquois were rejected by England, and as a result the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team was denied entry to play in the World Lacrosse Games, even after Secretary of State Clinton pleaded with London. And this insult came at a time when Iroquois players were exploding onto the lacrosse scene – with native players from the U.S. and Canada flooding onto NCAA teams, and two brothers named Lyle and Miles Thompson winning the Tewaaraton Trophy, the Heisman of lacrosse.
And the problem continued: for the 2021 World Games scheduled for right here in Birmingham AL (since pushed back to 2022), the Iroquois were not included on the list of eight invited lacrosse teams, despite the fact that they are ranked 3rd in the world, behind only the U.S. and Canada. The lacrosse community erupted in protest, putting the governing body on the hot seat. On August 14, World Lacrosse reversed course and decided that the Iroquois were eligible AS LONG AS the governing bodies of both Canada and the United States agreed.
And then came this: in early September, all the governing bodies gave their thumbs-up, clearing the way for the Iroquois to compete. But the eight-team field had already been chosen, so it appeared the Iroquois would be disrespected yet again. And that’s when some fine folks in Ireland showed their colors. The Irish national team, which was ranked the lowest in the field, graciously stepped aside. And with that, the Iroquois Nationals are in.
And here’s where it gets really great: the World Games are a dry run for the inclusion of lacrosse in future Olympic Games. And Iroquois success in 2022 might just provide the path for the Iroquois to be invited. Says Rex Lyons, Board Member of the Iroquois Nationals, “We have every intention of representing our people and the Creator’s Game in 2028.” If so, after 500 years of teaching other nations their game, the Iroquois will be the ones presenting lacrosse to the world at the Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Imagine: the opening ceremony at SoFi stadium. The nations of the world stream in. And in walks a brand new Olympic nation, the Haudenosaunee, under the purple flag of their sovereign nation, the Iroquois Confederacy.
That’s some medicine the world can sorely use. Behold! Tewaaraton, Gift of the Creator.
– Mike Keeler