The World Lacrosse Championship kicked off in 1967, and has been played every four years since 1974. But the game itself goes back much further, to time immemorial. According to the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, creation story, the game was first played in the spirit world. Lacrosse is more than just a game for the Haudenosaunee: because it was handed down by the Creator, playing lacrosse is like sacred medicine.
The Iroquois Nationals team was first admitted to the federation that runs the championship tournament in 1990, and remains the only First Nations/Native American team that is recognized to compete in an international tournament. The team has consistently placed in the top five each year it participates.
The Haudenosaunee is a confederacy of six nations: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora Nations are spread over what most people call Canada and the United States today. As a confederacy of sovereign tribal nations, the Haudenosaunee have their own passports. But when the team attempted to compete in Manchester in the 2010 World Lacrosse Championship, England declined the team entry because it refused to recognize the Haudenosaunee passport. The Iroquois Nationals fought the decision and are now back in this year’s tournament, which is being held in Denver, Colo.
As the Denver Post reports, the Iroquois Nationals team is packed with amazing players:
The Thompson family — four brothers and a cousin on the Iroquois Nationals — are fueling a team that is poised to dominate. With 3-foot braids swinging below their helmets, the Thompsons — led by State University at Albany brothers Miles, 23, and Lyle, 21, and their 23-year-old cousin Ty — are bringing an instinctual, honed-since-birth style of box-lacrosse play to the international stage, promising to elevate the game their ancestors created.
The trio arguably comprises the three best young players in all of lacrosse. Miles and Lyle co-won the 2014 Tewaaraton Award, the Heisman Trophy of lacrosse, marking the first time the award has gone to an American Indian.
Lacrosse became popular with Europeans who arrived in the eastern part of North America—called Turtle Island by the Haudenosaunee. Over time, the game has grown internationally, and is sometimes associated with elite universities in the United States. But no one knows the game better, or has played as long, as the Haudenosaunee.
This year, the Iroquois Nationals beat England and Japan by big margins—and barely lost to Canada by just one point in Sunday night’s game. It faces off with Australia tonight, and against the United States on Tuesday evening. The tournament continues through Saturday.