indian_lacrosse_print_large.jpg

THE HISTORY OF LACROSSE

Lacrosse was started by the Native American Indians and was originally known as stickball. The game was initially played in the St. Lawrence Valley area by the Algonquian tribe and they were followed by other tribes in the eastern half of North America, and around the western Great Lakes.


The size of the ball and the design of the stick is related to specific Tribe. Each tribe has a different name for the version of stickball they play. Alfie Jacques talks about it in detail here.

The original five Native nations who called themselves Haudenosaunee were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. Tuscarora is the sixth nation. These nations were – and continue to be – principally located in what is now known as upstate and western New York, and the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, Canada. These nations enjoy a government-to-government relationship with the United States and, as sovereigns recognized under the U.S. constitution, possess the ability to govern their own affairs, such as creating and enforcing their own laws, controlling their natural resources, and administering health care for their citizens.

It is important to appreciate that the Haudenosaunee contributions to the United States extend well beyond their status as the original stewards of the game of lacrosse. Of particular importance are the Haudenosaunee contributions to the principles of democratic governance. In the 12th century, the five Haudenosaunee nations came together to form an alliance, often referred to as the League of the Iroquois or, more commonly, the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) Confederacy. The confederacy was formed to ensure peace among the five nations, and established a sophisticated set of democratic laws and processes by which the nations would interact with each other and outsiders. The confederacy later became a source of inspiration for America’s founding fathers, who drew upon the Haudenosaunee model when crafting the U.S. Constitution, which was signed in 1787. Several years later, a sixth Native nation, the Tuscarora, joined the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.

The modern variations of lacrosse – field lacrosse, box lacrosse, and women’s lacrosse – are all descended from stick and ball games played by Native peoples as early as 1100 AD. By the 17th century, Native lacrosse in various forms was well established across the eastern half of North America and was documented by Jesuit missionary priests in present-day Canada. These priests called the game they witnessed lacrosse, meaning "the stick" in French. Chief Oren Lyons discusses the mohawk pronunciation of the word Tewaaraton. He also mentions the Onondaga pronunciation. 

Native peoples, particularly in present-day New York State and neighboring areas of Canada, continued to play lacrosse into the 19th century. English-speaking Canadians from Montreal were the first non-Native players. They began playing among themselves in the 1930s after having observed games being played by Native peoples. In 1856, the Montreal Lacrosse Club was founded, and the club’s founder codified rules in 1960. Compared to the Native game, these rules shortened the length of each game and reduced the number of players to 12 per team. The first official game played under these rules took place in 1867.

In the early stages of this growth, Native teams were active participants. They played in competitions and demonstrations in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. By the 1880s, however, Native teams were routinely banned from international competitions due to their dominance. Box lacrosse was invented in Canada during the 1920s and 1930s. Canadian field lacrosse players experimented with indoor games at unused ice hockey rinks during the summer, with strong support from arena owners. Canadian players enthusiastically adopted the new six-man indoor format. It quickly became the more popular version of the game in Canada, supplanting field lacrosse. Also, Native peoples adopted box lacrosse as the primary version of the game played in their territories, both in the United States and Canada.

Lacrosse "The Creators Game"