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The Iroquois or Hodinoshonni (people of the longhouse) were amongst many First Nations People who played the game of lacrosse as a medicine, for resolution and to entertain and show gratefulness to their Creator.
The Iroquois consists of six affiliated nations, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and the adopted nation of the Tuscarora. These nations referred to the game as tehotshikwa’eks (day ho ji gwa eks) meaning “they bump into one another”.
The game of lacrosse originated amongst the Iroquois people at the time of creation, at a time when the Creator sent a messenger to his people to provide them with life instructions. The messenger who came from the heavens or “sky world” appeared before the people and provided them with a way of life, a way to give thanks to the Creator. The messenger lived amongst the Iroquois people and taught them how to conduct ceremonies of thanksgiving for the many gifts that the Creator has given. The Iroquois were instructed to be grateful for their life sustenance such as corn, beans, squash, the strawberries, and also for the sun, moon, and thunder who all serve great purposes for continuation of life.
The messenger gave the Iroquois people instructions of how they should perform the Four Sacred Ceremonies which are the Great Feather Dance, the Men’s Personal Chant, the Drum Dance, and the Great Bowl Game.
After providing the Iroquois people with the instructions, the messenger told the people that he was instructed by the Creator himself to give one more sacred gift, that this gift would be performed by the men. The messenger said that this gift would be powerful and when performed with a tobacco offering, this gift would be able to cure sickness and it would be a good medicine. The messenger pointed to a small hill in the distance and told the people that they would find their gift on the other side of the hill. The people ran to the top of the hill eager to find their gift and saw that the young men were playing what is now known as lacrosse. The messenger told the people that this game would be the Creators entertainment and that the men who will be blessed with the gift should be grateful for their abilities and use good minds when playing.
To this day, the Mohawks at Akwesasne, the Onondagas near Syracuse New York, the Seneca Nation’s near Buffalo New York and the Iroquois of the Grand River Territory continue playing the traditional medicinal games for curing rites. During these ceremonial games the men must use wooden sticks with all natural netting made from leather and animal skin.
The Iroquois hold the game of lacrosse in the highest esteem since it was given to them simultaneously with the Four Sacred Ceremonies. This is the purpose and reason that so many young Iroquois men play the game with such heart and willingness. Today, the game is often referred to as “Tewa’araton” (day wa a la don) which is the Mohawk word which refers to the netting of the stick.