By Sarah Moses Syracuse.com
Photos by Mike Greenlar
ONONDAGA NATION – In 2010, England would not allow the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team to enter the country to compete in the world championships because the players were traveling on their Haudenosaunee passports.
The traditional Iroquois passports, accepted internationally for three decades, were suddenly considered inadequate as countries adopted new rules requiring more sophisticated and secure travel papers.
Travel will not be an issue this year for the Iroquois team. Next week the Onondaga Nation will be the site of the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship, the first international sporting event held on indigenous lands.
“We’re excited for the games to come home,” said Tadodaho Sidney Hill, the spiritual leader of the Onondaga Nation. “We’re proud to host and we want to make everyone feel welcome … even England.”
Workers have been putting the finishing touches on the wood-and-stone arena that is called Tsha’ Thoñ’nhes, which means “where they play ball.”
Construction of the arena was completed in less than five months.
“This project has been extremely quick,” said Otey Marshall, project manager for Hueber-Breuer Construction, the company leading the project. “What is unique about this project is the incredibly short amount of time that has gone from project idea to general idea to specific contractors coming on board and work being done on site.”
Meetings for the project began in early 2015 and decisions were made quickly, allowing for ground to be broken in May.
Similar projects would need approval from multiple government boards and often require grants and outside funding. This project was able to get underway much quicker, project leaders said, because it is on the Onondaga Nation and is funded completely by the nation, whose main source of revenue is the Onondaga Nation Smoke Shop.
The need for the new arena originated when the Onondaga Nation won the bid in 2012 to host the upcoming championship tournament.
Hill said the original plan was to expand the Onondaga Nation Arena, located on Route 11, which is named Tsha’Hon’nonyen’dakhwa (“where they play games”). When that arena was built in 2001, the nation had the intention of expanding the facility, Hill said.
“We quickly realized that it was going to be too expensive to expand,” he said.
Nation leaders met with community members and decided that a new facility would be built near the current outdoor lacrosse box and softball fields off Route 11A. The outdoor box will eventually be removed to make way for additional parking.
The nation hired Paul Huysman, of Bennetts & Huysman Architects, to design the building. Huysman also designed the main arena. Hueber-Breuer was contracted to lead the construction to make sure work would be completed in time for the championships.
The new arena, designed as an open-air arena during the summer, will feature an indoor lacrosse box with about 350 bleacher seats and room for spectators to stand. There are also locker rooms and restrooms. The wooden roof will provide protection from the rain and sun during summer months.
After the games, workers will install heating units and complete other work to allow the arena to be used during the winter months; doors will be rolled down on the sides of the arena when it is being heated.
But the new arena will be more than a lacrosse box. After the championship games, the facility will be used for volleyball and as a community space, Hill said.
“We will be able to use this facility all year long.” Hill said.
The new arena, 282 feet by 115 feet, is much smaller than the main arena, which seats 1,900. The main arena is very popular for lacrosse, ice hockey and ice skating. A variety of Central New York high school, college and club hockey teams use the ice arena as their home surface.
“We also wanted to have a place for the girls to use,” he said. “This can be used for girls volleyball, soccer and other sports.”
Special consideration was taken when deciding what type of artificial turf to use at the new facility. The surface selected has a softer, less abrasive and more natural feel; it’s also lead-free.
Demone Bell, a member of the Onondaga Nation and an architect, has worked on the project as a consultant and liaison for the nation. Her presence on the project is important to the nation, Hill said.
Bell and Vern Abrams, a member of the nation and a project manager, said the features of the new arena also keep with the nation’s traditions to utilize natural resources. The facility uses wood, stone and other natural resources.
The energy-efficient facility also utilizes natural lighting, LED lights and has the capabilities to include solar panels and geothermal energy systems, Bell and Abrams said.
The arena is being built by a combination of Hueber-Breuer employees and local subcontractors who employ numerous skilled construction workers from the Onondaga Nation, Marshall said.
“The workers seem to be very proud to work on this project,” Marshall said. “This is historic because of its use in the games.”
The Onondagas are continuing to prepare for the games, which will include a craft show and traditional Native American food for sale.