Elisha Ieshontenhawe King is from Akwesasne, a Mohawk community which straddles the imposed borders of Canada and the United States. She is a master’s student at Trent University and a member of the Trent women’s lacrosse team
Women’s lacrosse is one of the fastest-growing sports around the world, but for the Haudenosaunee women’s team, the road to lacrosse has been slow. In 1999, the women’s Haudenosaunee National team was disbanded in response to opposition from clan mothers (traditional Haudenosaunee matriarchs). The opposition stemmed from teachings that say lacrosse is a medicine game given only to men to play.
The women’s game continued to grow without official involvement from the Haudenosaunee Nationals and more teams entered the World Cup tournament. It was not until 2009 that a formal team was created again.
Now in 2019, the U19 Women’s Haudenosaunee Nationals will compete once more at an international level. They are one of 22 teams playing for gold in this year’s U19 Women’s World Lacrosse Championship, held by Trent University.
As a member of Trent University’s women’s lacrosse team, and a former member of the Haudenosaunee Nationals senior women’s team, I admit to having a biased view of women’s involvement in the game.
But the decision to play rests with each individual. Every Onkwehonwe woman who picks up a stick makes her peace with that decision. I’ve heard many stories over the years from women of how lacrosse has affected their lives. It saved them from suicide, it created opportunities to travel and receive an education, or it allowed them to experience life in a different way.
When I hear these stories and I think of my own experiences, I am grateful for the growth of the women’s game. Over the years, lacrosse became my way to connect to whatever community I was in and build relationships with people. Despite being told women aren’t supposed to play lacrosse, the game has allowed me to connect more to my home community of Akwesasne and my culture because of those relationships that were built.
I came to understand that the traditional view of women and the game does not mean we are less important; it is more a matter of understanding the different roles that men and women have in ceremony and understanding how each person’s responsibilities can be met. Since lacrosse is seen as a medicine game given by the Creator, it is traditionally a ceremony in itself. I have also learned that our way of life is not static and roles and responsibilities shift to meet the needs of the people.
Every player, Onkwehonwe or not, man or woman, needs to play the game with an understanding and embodiment of a “good mind” which encompasses the concepts of discipline, respect (for yourself and your opponent) and responsibility.
Every aspect of the game is connected to having a good mind, so I urge every lacrosse player, parent and spectator to continue to learn about the origins of the game and share that knowledge as a form of reciprocity to the game itself for everything we receive from it.
Begin by recognizing the traditional territories of the people whose game has been shared with you, the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Learn to pronounce our names for this game: Tewa:arathon (day-wah-al-a-doon) (Mohawk), Tehontsi’kwaeks (day-hoon-gee-gwah-eks) (Onondaga), Baggataway (bah-gad-ah-way) (Ojibway) to list a few.
Continue this learning journey by building relationships with people who can share their teachings about the game. Don’t leave all of your learning to a few articles in the newspaper. In sharing the roots of the game, you honour it and help it to grow.
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