The Creator gave us many things for us here on earth, one of them is this game which we call Deyhontsigwa’ehs. Deyhontsigwa’ehs is roughly translated to mean, “They bump hips.” If you ever played or watched a lacrosse game, you can see how the game got its name.
Lacrosse at Onondaga is considered sacred. It is a game that was given by the Creator, to be played for the Creator, and has been known to have healing power. The game in its original form is played between two groups, usually divided up between clans or young men versus old men. Since women are respected for providing life and are to protect this gift, they do not play lacrosse.
Once sides are chosen, the two teams play. The men hold in their hands hand-made sticks made of hickory. The spirit of the tree connects the player to Mother Earth as they play for the Creator. The game is played on an open field with two pole at each end signifying goals which a ball made of leather must pass. The Creator is happy to see his game played. When a game like this is played on Mother Earth, it is said that a game is also being played with our ancestors in Creator’s land. There is a predetermined amount that the teams must reach before the game is considered won. Therefore the game is not timed.
Today we still play the game the way our ancestors played the game as shown above. But the growth our game has allowed our people to play lacrosse in all different arenas as our white brothers began to play. Soon the Onondagas were playing “field Lacrosse” with the local colleges and universities in the area. It was very common for Onondaga to play Syracuse Uiversity, Colgate University and Army in the early 1900’s.
Then in 1932, the Olympics wanted to showcase lacrosse in the upcoming games in Los Angeles. The Onondaga Nation team was very polished and was undefeated in the area. A playoff was established and it a match between the Onondagas and a team from Johns Hopkins to play each other to represent the games at the Olympics. Johns Hopkins prevailed but both teams respected each others play. Unfortunately, with the success of the Onondaga team against the collegiate teams, the USA Lacrosse association banned all native teams from playing “field Lacrosse” as they felt that the natives were “professional” players.
Since the Onondagas and the rest of the Haudenosaunee couldn’t play field lacrosse, they turned their attention Northward where the Canadians were starting a new kind of lacrosse. The Canadians began playing lacrosse inside empty hockey rinks. The Onondagas and the Haudenosaunee quickly took to the physical nature of the game where intricate stick skills were fostered in “box Lacrosse.” Soon box lacrosse leagues became commonplace on the communities of the Haudenosaunee. From that point on, players became very adapt to the box game that players such as the Lyle Pierce, Stanley Pierce, and Irving Powless Sr. were inducted into the Hall of Fame for their prowess on the field.
Now the Onondagas excel in both the field and box game. Oren Lyons (Syracuse University All-American goaltender) is in the USA Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Canadian Hall Of Fame. Fellow SU player, Barry Powless, Travis Cook, Russ George, and Eli Cornelius are also in the Canadian Hall of Fame for their play as well as long time coach Louie Jacques. Current stars of both the professional field and box games are Marshall Abrams (SU All-American), Gewas Schildler (Loyola All-American), and Neal Powless (Nazareth All-American) with many more great players on the horizon.
To read more about Lacrosse on the Onondaga Nation, visit the Official site of the lacrosse team, The Onondaga Red Hawks.