Doug George-Kanentiio: Lacrosse must be returned to rightful place at Olympics

Onondaga Nation Faithkeeper Oren Lyons, far right, with members of the Photo from Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team. Photo from Iroquois Nationals / Facebook

Lacrosse Must Be Returned to the Olympics
By Doug George-Kanentiio

The Iroquois Nationals have tried for the past 30 years to restore lacrosse to the Olympics. Despite the rapid growth in the game, which now includes dozens of nations, the International Olympic Committee and the Federation of International Lacrosse have yet to come together to decide when, not if, lacrosse is once again returned to the Olympics.

It was a medal sport in 1904 and 1908, with Canada winning gold both times. In the 1904 Games the Mohawk Nation sent its own team, which won bronze with the players using names which may have sounded "Indian" to the fans but were clearly stage monikers taken from the western Native nations -- with the exception of one man called "Afraid of Soap" -- a joke which is now embedded in the official Olympic records.

The game surely ranks with water polo, badminton and synchronized swimming in terms of athletic ability and excitement. It should also be equal to the new additions to the Olympics in 2020: skateboarding, surfing and rock climbing. Perhaps the main reason it waits on the sidelines is the fact that there is a distinct all Native team, the Iroquois Nationals, a group which plays at the highest levels yet because they use their own passports and fly their own flag in defiance of the racial restrictions imposed upon Native people by the US and Canada neither Washington or Ottawa has committed to pressuring the IOC to add lacrosse.

Therein lies the challenge for the sport. Canada refers to indigenous communities as "First Nations" when in truth the governing entities on all Native territories are band councils created by the federal government and imposed using force upon aboriginal nations. The same is seen in the United States which has over 300 treaties with Native nations (treaties which are, according to the U.S. Constitution the supreme law of the land) but has undermined and destroyed indigenous governance through the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and the Indian termination law of 1953 followed by the relocation of tens of thousands of Natives from their homes to urban areas across the nation.

When efforts were made by the indigenous people to have the U.S. and Canada acknowledge past mistakes and actually commit to self determination as exemplified by the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples those two colonial powers joined Australia and New Zealand in refusing to adopt what had been an almost universal approval by the 200 other nations of the world.

Only last year did the federal government in Canada agree that the Declaration should be enacted into law, which should mean that it is now prepared to honor the country's true "national sport" by supporting the Iroquois Nationals, the inventors of the game, in their quest to enter the Olympics as a distinct people. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau merits great credit for bringing a new vigor, a new approach to aboriginal relations. Having him pick up the stick and insist the game be acknowledged for the its history and current status would be of tremendous benefit to every Native kid looking for sports heroes who look like them.

Having U.S. President Barrack Obama do the same before his term concludes in January of next year would insure the restoration of lacrosse to its rightful place as a global sport played by hundreds of thousands.

As for those Mohawks in 1904, they did well even with the fake names. An all Iroquois team would play the game at the Olympics in 1932 but only with exhibition status. At the last few world tournaments the Iroquois Nationals have done extremely well given the relatively shallow talent pool they have to draw upon. With less than a couple of thousand players the Nationals have won either the silver of bronze in both the box and field lacrosse games-this in contrast to the tens of thousands of players in Canada and the hundreds of thousands in the U.S.

But enough of the delays. Lacrosse belongs in the Olympics. Its time has come. There is no technical reason for its exclusion. Canada's national game must be restored along with the essential participation of its inventors -- the ancestors of the Iroquois Nationals.

And here are the 1904 Bronze medal winners from Team Mohawk Nation:
Black Hawk
Black Eagle
Almighty Voice
Flat Iron
Spotted Tail
Half Moon
Snake Eater
Red Jacket
Night Hawk
Man Afraid Soap
Rain in Face

Doug George-Kanentiio is an Akwesasne Mohawk currently residing on Oneida Territory with his wife Joanne Shenandoah.

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