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Iroquois Nationals GM Gewas Schindler Talks With ICTMN: The Nationals Are 'Our Team'

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As general manager of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team, Gewas Schindler says his primary objective is to oversee the management and operations of the team. But even more than that says Schindler of his history-making team, “As a Native American I am proud to represent all our people across America.”

Schindler, the youngest general manager in Nationals’ history and grandson of an Onondaga chief and Oneida grandmother, Schindler probably never suspected he would be the general manager of the Iroquois Nationals team that would beat Team USA.

On July 17, 2012 the Iroquois Nationals, with lacrosse players from the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Tuscarora Tribal Nations, defeated Team USA 15-13 at the World Under 19 Championships in Turku, Finland. Until 2012, Team USA had not lost in the 24-year history of the U-19 World Lacrosse Championships. Perhaps most impressive, Team USA draws upon a pool of 150,000 players across the nation while the Nationals draw upon a pool of just 86 players.

On the international stage, many lacrosse players and fans celebrated the victory, including Finnish player and 2012 games organizer Samuli Harala, who called the win, “The best game of the tournament.”

The proof is in the veritable pudding and even readers of Inside Lacrosse Magazine voted for the Iroquois Nationals to win a coveted Laxie Award for the Upset of the Year; the survey results were published in the magazine’s December 2012 issue.

(Inside Lacrosse Magazine Editor Terry Foy even enlisted the services of our own ICTMN correspondent and Mohawk Vincent Schilling to write the article.)

As if this all wasn’t enough, the Nationals received further honors when Syracuse and Onondaga County officials issued a proclamation designating July 28, 2012 as Iroquois Nationals U19 Lacrosse Day and then the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs recognized them publicly on their Facebook page.

On a personal level, Schindler also recently was honored as one of the NCAIED Top 40 Under 40 Native American Award recipients; Labeling Schindler as a young American Indian professional that has demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication to achieve impressive and significant contributions in their businesses and communities in Indian country.

In an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, this former Iroquois Nationals player himself and now current full-time general manager, Schindler told us what it is like to manage a team with such a great history of success, his life in the sport of lacrosse and what he expects to come in the future.

Great talking with you Gewas, our congratulations for all of the honors you and the Iroquois Nationals have received in 2012.

Thanks so much. I am proud to represent all our people across America because the Iroquois Nationals Team belongs to all of us; they are "Our Team." So, at this time I know that all of our peoples respectfully acknowledge the honor of our achievements, our Native culture, and this pride that is shared amongst all of our peoples, our ancestors, and for the seven generations to come.

We are humbled and gracefully accept the honor and acknowledgement bestowed by the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Triumph lies within all of us who partake as a participant, fan, or enthusiast in this wonderful game of Deyhontsigwa’ehs, known as lacrosse.

You also were honored as a Laxie winner for Upset of the Year voted on by readers of Inside Lacrosse Magazine?

Yes, that was awesome that we won a Laxie! Our U19 team was excellent and deserved the recognition. This should make everyone in Indian country proud. It was also a huge step forward for the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse program.

Has lacrosse always been a part of your life?

I grew up in Onondaga. My grandfather was an Onondaga Chief and my grandmother was Oneida, which makes me Oneida.

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Once you are born and your father gives you that wooden stick it is our tradition. It is more a way of life and a culture. It is a medicine game; you've got contributing factors that make it very unique for Iroquois boys and men— there is so much from your ancestors that passes down from generation to generation, and you learn that. As a young man you grasp that.

Because you are around it so much with the elders that play the game, this medicine game, they explain how this was the Creator's game and we are playing it for his enjoyment. You always play hard for him because he gave us this game as a gift. You don't forget that.

How has what you have learned affect how you play?

The Creator never wants you to hurt people or play with an angry mind. It is a physical game and you can easily get upset; especially the indoor game with so much physical contact. Obviously there is fighting and that is an aspect of it now.

There are going to be points of the game where you get angry but you can only carry that for a couple of seconds. You have to get over it because if you've got that angry mind, things go wrong. Which usually leads to the penalty box and you usually put your team into a bad situation and the other team usually scores.

It is very truthful the way that the elders taught us to keep our minds. Keep your minds positive and never hold that anger in because that anger will turn on you very quickly. Teams, players and friends that haven't kept that in mind, are affected on the scoreboard.

You brought home a bronze medal in Turku and beat Team USA in the round robin, how did the Nationals achieve that?

With the U-19 team in Finland, they were very physically involved athletes, very skilled and played at an elite level. But they had a mental capacity that allowed them to do what they did. We have always had a lot of talented and skilled players. However, to put the whole package together and to play the way they did— that group of young men, I haven't seen a group like that before.

It was an honor to be with them and to share what my relatives and elders passed on to me. I take that on myself to share that with these young men. They grasped it very quickly.

Syracuse and Onondaga County officials issued a proclamation designating July 28, 2012 as Iroquois Nationals U19 Lacrosse Day?

It’s cool because Syracuse is so close to Onondaga and because they are so close to us, they are more advanced in understanding what we do. I think that is why they honored us. They grasped the accomplishment we made and obviously we have a lot of friends in Syracuse to include Native people from the Onondaga Nation. It definitely brings our relationship closer with Syracuse because they recognized us.

What is to come in the development of the Iroquois Nationals program?

We have come to a level where we can honestly say we are competing for a gold medal in box lacrosse. In the past we haven't been able to say that. It has been in development, for me, a lot of the coaches and the board; everyone is really committed to stay at this level. It has taken us so long to get here and we have to keep it at this level. It's not enough until we have a gold medal around our necks. That is the passion that I have. I am an ex-player and it breaks my heart that I can't play at a league level anymore—now I have to use my energy in a different way. I've gotten too old for the world game it seems, but I'm using my energy for different things and that includes development.

We are very focused. Another huge thing that happened right before Finland was that we were selected the host the 2015 FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Syracuse. It is so huge, it really says to the rest of the world to recognize us as a sovereign nation. Just having us host this is unbelievable to me. Twenty years ago the thought to call ourselves a country did not make much sense in our minds because we have had to fight for our land so long. Now we are recognized as a country and they are coming to our land to play our game. Those two things together are so significant in history. It’s been a long time coming and I am just so proud it is reality.

The next thing is to win a gold medal— I know the players think that as well as our staff. We don't go to bed without thinking about it.

Even if we lose, we're going to go down swinging and it's going to be a tough win for whoever beats us. One thing that I look forward to is at the Onondaga Nation round robin in 2015— there are only 3,500 people that can fit in the stadium— in my mind, I know that we're going to have enough Native people that will be able to pack that place. We're going to bring out the drums, pack that place and scare the crap out of these countries.

The special thing about these boys on this team is that they all have a lot of family that have played for the Iroquois Nationals. It wasn't like I or our staff had to do a lot of teaching them within one year or anything— this has already been instilled in them. We are reminding them of things that are already within them.