Imagine Central New York without Lacrosse. Players, schools and colleges from this area have benefited from the fact that the game of Deyhontsigwa’ehs (They Bump Hips) has been played here since time immemorial. It is the ancient Haudenosaunee game, first seen by colonists in the 17th century that has become one of the fasting growing sports around the world.
In 1636 Jesuit missionary Jean de Brébeuf witnessed the game but considered it too violent. He later gave it the modern name of lacrosse, likely because the “racket” that was used resembled a Bishop’s crozier.
One hundred years later, white Canadians began to play the game. They changed the rules, modified the stick, and took it on as part of their uniquely North American identity. In 1843 the first game was played between a white team and a Mohawk team. Soon the old deerskin ball was replaced with a hard rubber ball. By 1868 reporters referred to it as Canada’s national game.
Queen Victoria gave the game her royal assent in 1876, so it spread quickly across the British Commonwealth, including New Zealand and Australia. Lacrosse was briefly an Olympic sport in the early 1900s, and later became a demonstration event with Haudenosaunee players participating.
In 1984 the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team competed in an international tournament as a cultural event of the Los Angeles Olympics. Lacrosse remains at the heart of each Haudenosaunee community, and is spreading to more countries around the world. Today, over 30 countries compete in the World Lacrosse Championships every four years.
Lacrosse is more than a game to the Haudenosaunee. We use the “Medicine Game” of Deyhontsigwa’ehs as a form of ceremonial healing, and to uplift people’s spirits. We believe that lacrosse is the Creator’s game—it is perpetually played in the Sky World to the delight of the Creator.
The wood stick used in lacrosse is made from a living hickory tree. It is believed to contain its own spirit from the tree, and this enhances the stick handler’s ability, if used with respect. For this reason the Haudenosaunee prefer to use their wooden sticks and are often buried with them when they pass away back to the Creator’s land.