TOWSON, Maryland — The heat was brutal, hovering at 89 degrees, full sun with no clouds overhead, and humidity was unusually mild for a June day in the mid-Atlantic.
One lacrosse player from the Haudenosaunee Nationals hovered over a trash can trying not to get sick from the heat while a coach hustled over to throw a cold, soaked rag onto the player’s neck.
Fans did their best to stay in the shade in the stands or under tents.
Players on the bench tried to keep cool under the tent and fan, which did little to quell the heat, while yelling at their teammates on the field playing against Japan Thursday afternoon. Haudenosaunee lost, 8-13. The first game of four in the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship at Towson University.
The hot summer schedule for the Haudenosaunee Nationals women’s team was just getting started.
Next week the women’s and men’s lacrosse teams head to the World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama.
“It's been a whirlwind this past year. There were times where we didn't know if we had the resources to get here, the staff. We really were scrambling the last couple of months and just to get here, I'm thankful,” said Claudia Jimerson, operations director for the Haudenosaunee Nationals’ women’s lacrosse team.
In comparison to other nations like the United States and Canada, the Haudenosaunee Nationals are in the process of building up their program, especially the women’s team that was restructured last year. Previously, the women’s and men’s teams for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy were managed under separate organizations.
Through a contentious decision last year, the women’s team came under the same organization as the Haudenosaunee Nationals men’s team. The men’s team changed their name, following in the steps of the women’s team, becoming the Haudenosaunee Nationals men’s lacrosse team.
“As a board and as an organization, we voted unanimously to change it because that's who we call ourselves,” Jimerson, Cayuga, said. “We don't need somebody telling us how to live our lives ... let's start getting back to our own and by all means, start with our game.”
Jimerson was brought on last year to help rebuild the program and recently hired general manager, Shaniece Mohawk.
“Being here is huge and it's just one of the first big milestones in getting to 2028,” said Mohawk, Seneca, referring to both teams preparing for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
It’s currently being decided by the International Olympic Committee whether or not the fastest-growing sport in the world, lacrosse, will be an event at the 2028 summer games. World Lacrosse created the sixes game format in an attempt to fit into the Olympic committee's goal to make the games smaller with less production. The game is typically with 10 players per team on the field.
“To think that my daughter in the future years could be going to the Olympics one day is just insane. My nieces, nephews, anyone, any younger Indigenous girl could be going to the Olympics one day,” Ivy Santana, attacker for the team, said.
The Women’s World Championship invites 30 teams that play at the highest level of lacrosse from all across the world to compete. More than 500 athletes from 30 countries participate every four years. The team has yet to win at the Women’s World Championship but last fall they won the Pan-American Lacrosse Association’s 2021 Sixes Cup. They also won those games in 2019.
Many women on the team are, or former DI athletes.
Santana, Seneca, just graduated from college where she played Division I lacrosse at the University at Albany. She has been playing lacrosse since she was five years old.
Being able to participate in these games means a lot to Santana, who two years ago suffered a knee injury that kept her from being able to play on the Nationals team.
“It's unbelievable knowing that I'm here representing my people, doing what I've been dreaming of since I was a little girl, and just seeing it all come together,” she said.
Cassandra “Bean” Minerd, defense for the team, has also been playing lacrosse most of her life and loves the game. Sharing the game with the world and coming from the nation who originated the game through Creator is very meaningful for Minerd.
“It shows that, like, we're spreading that good medicine that the game brings,” Minerd, Onondaga, said. “Yes, the men have a different way of using the medicine, but we as women, we use the medicine for our own stuff to help us in any obstacle we face in our life. I know for myself, lacrosse helped me through the stuff I went through and helped me get to where I am today.”
“It got me to go over the world. It helped me come here. Lacrosse brought me to family, girls who I have friendships with for 10 years plus, they're like sisters to me.”
The road to where the team is now hasn’t been easy and where they want to go next will be even more challenging. But the team and board continue moving forward with the hope that the next generation of Haudenosaunee lacrosse players will be able to represent their nation and the Indigenous people of these lands on the world stage.
“We face all these hardships. We face them recognizing us like knowing that we're here. This is our sport. We can be at the table,” Minerd said. “Being able to fight to get to that table and be in the Olympic sport is going to mean the world. I know my community is going to go crazy over it. Especially having kids from our community going, to be able to play in the Olympics.”
The team is headed next to Birmingham where they will play the game 6 on 6.
“It's going to be really hot. That's one thing I'm looking forward to, but it's like a run for the Olympics. I played in a sixes tournament in the fall,” she said. “It's so much fun. It's a lot faster and it's a new, adapting, and evolving game. I'm just looking forward to it because hopefully the Olympics takes it and then we can just get going.”
Both the Haudenosaunee Nationals teams will be at the 2022 World Games. The men’s team plays first starting July 8. The women’s first game is July 12.
Other Indigenous representation at the games includes a woman on Team USA.
Bekah Howe, Crow Creek Sioux, will be representing Team USA in the women’s pétanque, a sport where one stands in a small circle and tosses a metal ball, called a boule, at another player’s boule for points. The first to thirteen wins. She will be playing in Birmingham on July 12 and 13.