Haudenosaunee Wooden Stick Lacrosse Expo

The United States was founded by means of incredible violence against Indigenous populations, and the ruling class and mainstream media work together to hide the reality of this ongoing violence. Resisting this brutal past that continues to guide the present, the Haudenosaunee Wooden Stick Lacrosse Expo helped to unravel a small portion of the  fabric of injustice woven into U.S. history.

On Sept. 28 and 29, two sunny, mild days in the cradle of lacrosse, thousands came together to honor the rich history of Haudenosaunee and the significance of lacrosse for the Six Nations: Seneca, Tuscarora, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Cayuga.

This sport, which is becoming more popular in the U.S. and abroad, is more than an athletic event to Haudenosaunee players and the larger Indigenous community. It is part of a cosmological story where the game is played as part of a contest between the Creator and his brother, which is one reason why it is reverently called the Creator’s Game.

It is not, however, only a game for humans given to them by the Creator; in one story, even the animals play the game; the land animals compete against the animals of the air. Instructively, the bat falls somewhere between the two, and the animals of the air eventually choose the bat. It is the bat who scores the winning goal, a story representing the important gifts each member of a team and community contribute to the larger social fabric.

It is also known as the Medicine Game as lacrosse heals not only those who play as well as the larger community, but also the ill person for whom the game is played. Giving the leather lacrosse ball to the sick community member, the person receives the medicine cultivated in the ball itself through the hard and serious competition.

The significance of the game is made clear when we learn that at birth, a small lacrosse stick is given to a newborn boy, and at death, he is buried with his lacrosse stick. In all of these aspects, the Creator’s Game is intended to heal and strengthen Haudenosaunee people.

Historical significance of lacrosse

The historical significance of lacrosse for Haudenosaunee can be instructive to capitalist imperialism, which sustains itself through warfare.

The Creator’s Game played an important role in the peace process a thousand years ago in the region of what is now Syracuse and Liverpool, N.Y. Prior to confederating, the Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Cayuga nations were battling each other (the Tuscaroras joined the confederacy in the 18th century). Communities were losing loved ones, and peace seemed an impossibility, but a person known as the Peacemaker arrived in a canoe traveling across Lake Ontario. He brought a message of peace to the five warring nations.

We are told that the first person to accept the message was a woman, and the matrilineal structure emerged from the female’s wisdom and insight that allowed her to receive his message of peace. We are also told that the last nation to accept the message was the Onondaga, as their leader had become quite unruly. Eventually, even he accepted the message of peace, and each nation came together for the mutual benefit of all.

To ratify this agreement, they played a lacrosse game on the shores of Onondaga Lake (now where one of the nation’s largest malls stands, Destiny USA, a clear sign of capitalism’s destructive, dominating potential). This story helps us to understand why the lake is so important to Haudenosaunee; at this location, peace was cultivated bringing the Creator, the Five Nations and the land together in a symbiotic, healthy relationship.

With colonization and the founding of the United States came catastrophic results. Settlers and politicians forced Native Americans from their traditional lands, constrained them on small unwanted portions of land called “reservations,” and tried to force them to assimilate through wars, boarding schools, taxation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In Onondaga County,  the People of the Hills, for whom the county is named, continue to exist on only a small portion of their original territory, now 7,300 acres instead of their aboriginal 2.6 million acres extending to what is now Canada and Pennsylvania.

Not only is the Onondaga Nation restrained to a minute portion of its aboriginal land accompanied by legal battles to right the legal wrongs, but the sacred waters of Onondaga Lake are polluted with a thick layer of mercury resting on its bottom and other significant forms of ecological degradation in the region wrought by capitalist production. In other words, Haudenosaunee have to constantly battle for their sovereignty, homelands and the ability to maintain their traditional ways in a world of consumerism, ecological destruction and human rights violations.

Lacrosse expo an athletic event with a political and cultural message

The Haudenosaunee Wooden Stick Lacrosse Expo was the site of two difficult contests. The first was on the lacrosse field. Haudenosaunee teams struggled against each other in a series of games, an exciting display of physical and mental gifts on the field.

The second battle was on a political and cultural level as the event helped educate the public about the Indigenous roots of the Creator’s Game, its cultural, spiritual and political significance, and the continuing struggle against the colonizing practices guiding U.S. culture and politics.

This is the beginning of an annual tradition, which appears to be off to a good start judging by the thousands in attendance over both days and the broad interest generated by a social media campaign, which garnered support from international institutions, media outlets and sporting communities.

The minds behind this event were Randy Hall, Philip Arnold and Sandy Bigtree, who thought it an innovative way to remind people about the origins and significance of lacrosse. They had been working to expand the narrative about Indigenous populations here in Central New York as they developed plans for the newly established Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center. It is a nonprofit organization focused on reeducating the public about the presence of Haudenosaunee in the region, their democratic confederacy, ecological stewardship of the land, and the central role women have played as leaders in their communities for a thousand years.The Haudenosaunee are often known by their non-traditional name “Iroquois,”  a term probably borrowed from Basque-Algonquian origins meaning “killer people.” The previous center, Sainte Marie Among the Iroquois, focused too narrowly on the Jesuit fort built in the region, part of missionary activities to convert non-Christians. These activities were supported by papal documents authorizing conversion, subjugation and the taking of Indigenous lands for the Church and Christian nations.

The Jesuit fort lasted only from 1656 until 1658, but the old center’s emphasis on those two years defined Haudenosaunee culture for the larger non-Indigenous, U.S. population.

The Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center seeks to reeducate the public in collaboration with the Onondaga Nation, the Onondaga Historical Association, Syracuse University, and other local institutions. With this goal in mind, nothing seemed more appropriate than returning to the Creator’s Game, which means so much to the Haudenosaunee people.

Struggling to change the world

With the first annual event behind them, the organizers will begin planning for September 2014. This planning coincides with other events through the Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center intent on reeducating the public about the Indigenous presence in the region.

In the capitalist system that reveres commodities and money more than people, industry more than the natural environment, “Western” values over Indigenous traditions and wisdom, the organizers of the 2014 Haudenosaunee Wooden Stick Expo and the Skä·noñh – Great Law of Peace Center have an uphill battle. But it is clear that both the minds and hearts of its Indigenous and non-Indigenous committee members are ready to persevere despite the longstanding political, cultural and economic obstacles. They know that many have contemplated the world, but their job is to change it.

In the end, Indigenous sovereignty and rights should be on the forefront of every socialist’s mind because genocide, Indigenous displacement and the ecological decimation of aboriginal lands are the direct result of a marriage between capitalism and Christian supremacy indifferent to forms of human life not fitting into the dominant framework.

To speak of the end of domination and oppression without addressing the Indigenous component would be to support the unjust history now in place for 400 years in North America.

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