The Iroquois Nationals team in action. Photo: Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse

Doug George-Kanentiio: Why aren't there any Native lacrosse coaches?

A National Shame: No Native Coaches in U.S. College Lacrosse

By Doug George-Kanentiio

Lacrosse is our game, invented by the Iroquois as an alternative to war and as a sport which has profound spiritual implications. It restores harmony and effects healing. It entertains the people and the natural world. It makes our physical selves stronger, promotes teamwork and brings happiness to our nations.

Out of a population of just over 100,000 with but a few thousand of that number actually playing the game the Iroquois produce some of the best players in the world. Our teams compete against countries such as Canada and the United States; they have national teams which can select the best from hundreds of thousands of players. But the Iroquois are able to compete at the highest levels and now medal in both the indoor (box) and outdoor (field) versions despite our shallow pool.

We can do so because it is our game and our players know this.

Historically this has been true. Iroquois lacrosse teams of the past demonstrated such skills as to set the standard for the game once it became a collegiate sport and, in the 1930's, when it was refined to fill otherwise empty ice hockey arenas.

In the past decade the Iroquois have won numerous Canadian box lacrosse national tournaments which feature the best teams in North America. In the Senior A, Senior B, Junior A and Junior B levels the Iroquois have won Mann, President's, Minto and Founders championships. They have been an integral part of US college champions whether at Syracuse University, the University of Denver or Onondaga Community College.

College teams like the the University of Albany Great Danes have been very active in recruiting Iroquois players and it should come as no surprise that it now has seven Native athletes on its team and is ranked number 1 in the United States. Other teams, such as Syracuse, are far less successful in securing the talents of Native players and sits at number 10. When the two teams met on February 17 the Great Danes armed with a strong core of Iroquois players humiliated the Syracuse Orange 15-3. The Great Danes would go on to beat historic powerhouses Maryland and Cornell to become, according to the polls, the best team in the U.S. college ranks as of April 1.

The coach of the Great Danes is Scott Marr. He has a strong presence among the younger Iroquois players, those still in high school. He was able to convince the Thompson brothers to attend Albany instead of schools like Cornell or Syracuse because he developed a close relationship with the families of the recruits. He did not lay dormant but created an opportunity for the Native student athletes to directly compete while obtaining a college degree. By doing so he proved himself unique among college coaches, few of whom actually visit our communities to recruit the students, visit the schools or meet the councils.

Marr is the exception and it is not right that he stands alone.

Native lacrosse players should go to those schools which have a strong association with the Iroquois nations. This can be done, in part by by having Native coaches on all levels. Yet there are no Native coaches anywhere at any U.S. college. This exclusion should be of serious concern, equal to that of African Americans being denied basketball and football coaching jobs but a few years ago. There is no excuse for lacrosse coaching apartheid to continue.

We have coaches who can, and do, win. A casual list has champions such as Doug Kilgour, Rick Kilgour, Barry Powless, Adam Thompson, Kariwate Mitchell, Ed Shenandoah, Marshall Abrams. We have Mark Burnham, an SU national champion as a player, and the new head coach of the Iroquois Nationals. We have Neal Powless, the head coach of the Netherlands national team. We have the best there are in developing talent, giving it structure and winning titles.

But not in the U.S.

This is a terrible omission which must be corrected. Pressure has to be exerted on the NCAA to investigate why Natives are not hired as coaches. This is not simply an athletic matter but also is indicative of the sad state of Iroquois students in college where attrition rates are unacceptably high because of the lack of relevance, financial support or administrative assistance. Having a strong Native presence beginning with an Iroquois head coach would begin to rectify this situation.

For those concerned at this deplorable condition call Mark Emmert, President of the National College Athletic Association at 317-917-6222 and ask him why Natives are completely absent as coaches in any of the schools under his jurisdiction. Ask him why this exclusion, apparently race based, is allowed to continue. Then demand that he meet with our Iroquois leadership to change this status.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He has served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: or by calling 315-415-7288.

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