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Native American Legacy of Lacrosse


The sport of lacrosse, which has spread worldwide, originated on the native lands of modern day New York. With documentation of Native Americans playing the game as early as the 12th century, the sport of lacrosse has spanned centuries and is returning to the global stage at the 2028 Olympics.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and as lacrosse continues to grow in popularity there is a conversation about how to maintain honor and respect for the sport’s native origins.


The Native Origins of Lacrosse

Lacrosse, referred to as the “creator’s game” by many native people today, originated within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Lacrosse was used as a tool of strength, courage and leadership and represented community in many tribes.

Leo Nolan, executive director of Haudenosaunee Nationals Lacrosse, said the game carries cultural and spiritual importance, as lacrosse was also used as an agent of healing in native communities.

“The game really came out of that origin as a medicine game, particularly when an individual, a family or community had things that weren’t going right for them or there were physical health issues, they asked for a game to be played in their community as medicine, “ Nolan said. “The game of lacrosse brought everyone together and that huge community effect really is the start of the game today.”

As the first organized team sport invented by native people, lacrosse is a source of great pride for Lorna Rose, a sport communication specialist and member of the Cayuga nation.


“The sport of lacrosse means connection as the original spectators of lacrosse were supposed to be the creatures of the forest connected to the earth and to the world,” said Rose. “This is the sport of my people.”

Haudenosaunee Nationals Lacrosse

The Haudenosaunee Nationals Lacrosse Organization is an Indigenous sports organization founded in 1983 as the Iroquois Nationals. They officially changed their name to Haudenosaunee Nationals in 2022 to honor native people and their community.


This change communicated a rejection of the Iroquois name that was given by the French, under colonial rule, and now represents the meaning of the sport.

“The name change from Iroquois to Haudenosaunee conveys a message to call us by our real name, call us by what we speak and who we are as people,” said Rose.

The players of the Haudenosaunee Nationals take the responsibility of honoring their community and the roots of their sport seriously. Nolan said that the focus of the team is not solely performance on the field, but maybe more importantly on the responsibility that the team feels to lead off the field.

“When we go to these tournaments, we are typically asked to perform a clinic, both our skills clinics and also talk about the game of lacrosse, its origins and what it means to us,” Nolan said. “Sharing the sport and values of Lacrosse helps us better understand and connect with various cultures.”

A large piece of the Haudenosaunee Nationals mission is to help share the meaning and the history of lacrosse, which many athletes do not know.

Honoring the Origins in Modern Lacrosse

Centuries after its inception, education about lacrosse’s native roots remains a continued effort for players and coaches alike today.
“I don’t think there is another sport with Indigenous roots like lacrosse so there needs to be more education, conversations and awareness around that in our sport,” said Karrie Moore, women’s lacrosse coach at Ithaca College.
As lacrosse returns to the global stage at the 2028 Olympics, the Haudenosaunee Nationals are currently not eligible to play. This is because they are not recognized as a sovereign nation. Moore said she sees this decision as an injustice to the native people and the sport.
“We have to advocate as a lacrosse community that this is not right, because it is crazy that those who built the foundation of the sport cannot compete,” said Moore. “The Indigenous culture of lacrosse is something we must be talking about.”
There is an elevated platform for the sport, with lacrosse being broadcasted worldwide at the Olympics, that Rose sees as an opportunity to showcase not only the sport, but its native history.
Rose said she thinks a land acknowledgment at the beginning of each lacrosse game and for every lacrosse player in the 2028 Olympics to have a patch of the Haudenosaunee flag on their jerseys or on their helmet would help give the representation the players deserve.
“The purpose of participating in the sport is about representation and connection,” Rose said. “This an Indigenous sport that survived colonization, that managed to persevere and remain a component of our mainstream culture.”

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