Often described as “America’s oldest team sport,” lacrosse was played as early as the year 1100 among the Haudenosaunee, a confederation of six Native American nations — the Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora — in Upstate New York and Canada.
You wouldn’t find many cleats, helmets, gloves, or other modern equipment being used, though. Prior to European influence, they wore very little protective equipment. Participants wrapped balls in deer hide, and games lasted for several days with hundreds of players. Although many contemporary lacrosse fans enjoy the game for its fast pace, high degree of athleticism, and emphasis on teamwork, around this time lacrosse was much more than a competitive sport. It was played to prepare for war, settle disputes, and overall, was, and still is, a major component of Indigenous culture.
“Lacrosse is part of [the story of Haudenosaunee creation…], of our identity, of who we are,” Neal Powless told History Magazine. Powless is a member of Onondaga Nation and three-time All-American collegiate lacrosse player.
The Haudenosaunee Nationals are an Indigenous sports organization — the only one of its kind — recognized by World Lacrosse, the international governing body of lacrosse. Despite its players hailing solely from Upstate New York and small parts of Southeastern Canada, the Haudenosaunee Nationals are a competitive lacrosse team on an international level, ranked third by World Lacrosse only behind the United States and Canada. The Haudenosaunee earned bronze behind the U.S.’s gold and Canada’s silver in the 2023 World Lacrosse Championships.
In October, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that lacrosse will be included in the 2028 Summer Olympics Games. The Haudenosaunee Nationals have met some resistance while attempting to represent themselves in the sport they invented. Currently, nothing is set in stone as far as the Nationals’ Olympic wishes are concerned, however, as recent statements from the IOC have not been promising.
“Only national Olympic committees recognized by the IOC can enter teams for the Olympic Games,” stated the IOC.
The Haudenosaunee Nationals are not a national Olympic Committee, preventing their participation. As it currently stands, the members of the Haudenosaunee Nationals are permitted to join either the United States or Canada lacrosse team, but cannot assemble their own Indigenous roster for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Haudenosaunee Nationals have been impeded from competing on the world stage.
Prior to their bronze medal in the 2023 World Lacrosse Championships, the Haudenosaunee were not allowed to compete in the 2022 World Games, a competition designated for sports that aren’t featured in the Olympics.
“What kind of competition would you have in lacrosse if the first nation to ever play, and still one of the best, isn’t represented?” stated Peter Milliman, 2022 Haudenosaunee Nationals head coach.
Milliman’s sentiment rings true today with the hurdles posed by the IOC with regard to the Nationals’ participation in the 2028 Olympic Games.
The Olympics are known to be an event that unites cultures from across the globe to engage in friendly competition. The exclusion of the Haudenosaunee in the 2028 Games contradicts this representation of the Olympics, especially when considering the cultural significance of the sport to Indigenous folks.
Fortunately, both World Lacrosse and LA28, the 2028 Olympic Games organizing committee, are working together to pioneer “creative solutions” to address this issue.
Nevertheless, until they can posit such a creative solution to the IOC, the Haudenosaunee will not be allowed to compete in lacrosse during the 2028 Los Angeles games on land that was once Native American soil.