Being ranked number one in Sacramento, and tenth in Norcal, Oak Ridge highly values their award winning lacrosse team. However, what many students don’t know about our dearly beloved sport is that lacrosse has Native American origins. Although conquistadors and Europeans have continually, inhumanely oppressed Natives throughout history, Natives still have strongly beneficial influences on American culture and sports today. It is indispensable to recognize the mistakes of the oppression against Native Americans as well as increase awareness of their valuable impact, and lacrosse is a great example of this.
Dating back to the 19th century, lacrosse is one of the oldest surviving sports in North America. Completely originated and created by Natives, Europeans made the sport popular in the 1600s when a revered priest, Jean De BreBeuf, watched games and found a particular interest (“The Game of Lacrosse”).
The game itself started with religious and traditional roots, originated for curative, cleansing, and ceremonial purposes. The oldest surviving sticks date only from the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and the first detailed reports on Indian lacrosse are even later. It also served as a means of territorial competition between tribes. Games determined outcomes of land and barriers. Lacrosse was almost exclusively a male sport, with 3 forms: the southeastern, the Great Lakes, and the Iroquoian forms. The southeastern was a version in which each player held two sticks, while the Great Lakes version was more similar to today’s version, with a single 3-foot stick for each player. However, both of these forms were lost in history as they weren’t ideal, while the Iroquoian form is today’s most influential form, making use of a longer stick and string-bound net, along with a box and field most similar to today’s regulation field (Vennum).
Lacrosse used in competitional ways between tribes. Used to settle bets, territory disputes, and issues among leaders. Lacrosse was obviously held very dearly to certain tribes. Pictured here is a face-off, used to start a new quarter and determine which side takes the ball first, which is still a prominent aspect of the rules of the game today.
Lacrosse was taken very seriously in its early years, as Natives were trained hard and set to very superstitious and ritual diets. The game was held very dearly to Native culture as betting and gambling was a common form of social hierarchy between tribes; the more money bet, the higher the social rank. Players worked hard to excel in their sport to support their tribe. In fact, Lacrosse is a contact sport today due to the origins and aggressiveness by Natives and the pressure of waging on wins (Aveni). Similarly today, lacrosse is a sport that brings many people together, whether it be closeness of teams or the supportive oak ridge fans and spectators. With every win the oak ridge family becomes closer.
As the Iroquoian form of lacrosse advanced and appealed to more tribes, the other forms faded out. Canadian settlers, mainly French, found great interest in the game by the 1800s and popularity grew in Canada, when Montreal people eventually adopted the Mohawk form. The prevalently modern name of the game came from French settlers themselves (Vennum). Lacrosse’s extreme popularity in Canada still remains to this day, as it’s labeled the national sport (Winston). Interest grew exponentially as people traveled to play in Europe, along with its new addition to the World Cup games, in which Natives were excluded from around that time (Vennum). It is also notoriously labelled one of the world’s fastest growing sports.
In the mid-nineteenth century, when English-speaking Montrealers adopted the Mohawk game they were familiar with, attempted to “civilize” the sport with a new set of rules and organize into amateur clubs (Vennum). Europeans used the word “civilize” very demeaningly, showing that the Native Americans were obviously never revered or even respected for their accomplishments; it is truly sad that we never give enough credit to them. As many people especially choose to ignore the fact that it was our ancestors that forced Native Americans into encomienda systems, stripped them of their territory, and stole the sport that in fact protected their territories in the first place. Often, primary sources describe the actions of Europeans as animals in the way they treated the Native Americans, claiming “… [Europeans] acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola once so populous [more than three million] has now a population of barely two hundred persons” (“Bartoleme De Las Casas”). The oppression is relevant, and we must recognize the mistakes and focus on being remorseful as well as thankful for the cultural ideas Natives have given us over time.
In relation to our lives, it is important for Oak Ridge students and players to realize its origins and reflect on history in order to truly admire Native American Influence. When informed of lacrosse’s history, Ryan Carpenter, number 2 varsity midfielder, claimed, “The fact that my sport has such an interesting historical background is awesome. I live and breathe lacrosse; it’s everything to me.” With this story, we hope to spread awareness of our beloved games origins, to pay our respects back to the Natives. “Lacrosse is my entire life, I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s fun as a mug, so I guess I owe a lot to the Native Americans and their culture,” says number 11, varsity attack position Ryan Rogers.
Oak Ridge varsity Trojans playing against the Davis blue devils. The team displays the modern interpretation of Iroquoian form of the game, with the longer, single stick and box and field.
Lacrosse is evidently a huge deal today, not only to Oak Ridge but to the world. From world cup to high school tournaments, lacrosse means a lot to thousands of people as it has grown over the years. As for the students here at Oak Ridge, we encourage you to come out to a game, to see the team, the Oak Ridge family, and the influence of Native culture on American ideals. We have a lot to thank of the Natives.
Article by Kelly Owens and Taylor Pollard
Aveni, Anthony. “The Indian Origins of Lacrosse.” The Indian Origins of Lacrosse : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site,
Bartoleme De Las Casas, Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/bdorsey1/41docs/02-las.html.
“The Game of Lacrosse.” The Rules of Lacrosse. History And Origins Of Lacrosse., College Sports Scholarships, www.collegesportsscholarships.com/history-lacrosse-rules.htm.
Accessed Oct. 5 2017.
“Rising State-by-State Rankings: June 20, 2017.” Rising State-by-State Rankings: June 20, 2017 | 3d Rising, 20 June 2017, 3drising.com/articles/high-school/boys/rising-state-state-
Vennum, Thomas. “History.” US Lacrosse, 24 Aug. 2016, www.uslacrosse.org/about-the-sport/history. Accessed 2 Oct. 2017.
Winston, Grady. “Lacrosse Rooted in Tribal Tradition.” Legends Of America, Dec. 2012, www.legendsofamerica.com/na-lacrosse.html. Accessed 5 Oct. 2017.