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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

The world will get a double dose of Haudenosaunee lacrosse come 2022.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals, a women’s lacrosse team of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, received some good news in late December when it learned that it was invited to play in the 2022 World Games set for Birmingham, Alabama.

The invitation came a few months after its male counterpart, the Iroquois Nationals, accepted an invitation. Now, for the first time in history, both teams will be competing in the highest international lacrosse event slated for July of next year, where nations compete against each other. Think of the Olympic games if it included lacrosse.

“Being the first Indigenous women’s team to be invited is so empowering and incredible,” said Amber Hill, a veteran team goalkeeper and team spokeswoman.

Image courtesy of Haudenosaunee Nationals.

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is the original creators of lacrosse and is traditionally known as Tewaarathon. The confederacy is made up of six tribal nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. Many of the Haudenosaunee live in what is today upstate New York and in nearby Canadian provinces.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals is not settling on a participation trophy, though. Hill, Tuscarora, said she wants to medal in the 8-team field. The team has held tryouts but because of the pandemic and the tournament more than a year out, the roster hasn’t been set.

“I would like a medal,” she said. “That’s always the goal. We want to be able to show the world that we’re just as good as our men. We are dead set on showing the world that we have just as much talent, even though we haven’t been allowed to play as long as they have.”

The Iroquois Nationals, a powerhouse men’s lacrosse team widely known in the lacrosse community and beyond, have competed for decades and won prized medals in indoor and outdoor tournaments. The team often ranks as one of the best in the world. Their road to the World Games wasn’t based on skill or record.

(Related: Friendship between Ireland, tribes lives on)

In September, after weeks of advocating for a spot, the International World Games Association finally bulked and changed eligibility qualifications that initially didn’t recognize the Nationals as a sovereign nation. However, eight teams had already accepted the invitation and it appeared the World Games wasn’t going to add spots. This is when Ireland Lacrosse stepped up and bowed out, essentially making room for the Nationals.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals in a 2019 match. (Photo courtesy of Haudenosaunee Nationals)

For the Haudenosaunee Nationals, the change in eligibility rules helped. Still, it wasn’t clear at the time if the team was eligible record wise and expected it needed to be a top team in the 2021 World Lacrosse Women’s Championships to receive an invitation.

That changed in December when the World Games tweaked its selection criteria and offered a spot to the winner of the 2019 Pan-American Lacrosse Association Continental Qualifier, a tournament won by the Haudenosaunee Nationals. Not long before the announcement, the 2021 World Lacrosse Women’s Championships was postponed to 2022 because of the pandemic.

The pandemic has had an impact on world sporting events. The 2020 summer Olympics were pushed back to this summer. The World Games offers sporting events not contested in the Olympic Games and usually schedules the following year after the Olympics. When the Olympics postponed a year, so did the World Games.

Haudenosaunee Nationals goalkeeper Amber Hill in a 2019 match. (Photo courtesy of Haudenosaunee Nationals)
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The Haudenosaunee Nationals don’t have the same name or brand recognition as the Iroquois Nationals, at least not yet, but the team has come a long way since the early days when a player’s mom, a seamstress, embroidered the team’s logo on team gear, Hill said.

The challenge of simply playing the game is not lost on Hill. Through the years, some Haudenosaunee elders have not supported their women playing lacrosse based on it being a men’s medicine game, but that mentality has slowly changed over time.

Hill has been playing for the Haudenosaunee Nationals since the team’s inception in 2006 when around 30 athletes tried out. Hill remembers that she was the oldest player to try out and the lone Division 1 sports athlete to take part. Hill played lacrosse for Syracuse University.

“I don't know who's going to make the team, but I'm going to bet the farm that 100 percent of us are going to have some type of D1 or other type of collegiate experience because of the amount of growth and talent since that first tryout in 2006,” Hill said.

The team has set aside three roster spots for Indigenous women not part of the Haudenosaunee. Tribal citizens of a federally recognized tribe can vie for a roster spot, Hill said.

Miya Scanlan, Seneca, is a high school lacrosse player in New York. (Photo courtesy of Miya Scanlan)

New York high school lacrosse star Miya Scanlan, Seneca, has a goal to be part of the team that competes in the World Games.

Scanlan is headed to Jacksonville University in the fall to play lacrosse. She was at the Haudenosaunee Nationals tryouts in October and said “it was definitely fun competing against all that talent.”

Scanlan comes from a family of lacrosse players. Her sister plays at Louisville University and her brother is a professional lacrosse player.

The tryout also included virtual submissions and future tryouts are expected in the future until the final roster is determined.

“I haven't had the opportunity to compete for them yet, but hopefully when I do, it'll be fun and make good memories,” Scanlan said.

2020 World Games:

Women’s teams: Haudenosaunee Nationals, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Israel, Japan and United States.

Men’s teams: Iroquois Nationals, Australia, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Japan and United States.

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is the deputy managing editor at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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