This past winter, I found myself standing at the faceoff circle before a game in the middle of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena on the Six Nations reservation. Looking up at the walls all I see are dozens of banners for Founder’s Cups, Minto Cups, Mann Cups, and NLL Championships hanging above the benches along with the purple Iroquois Confederacy flag.
I thought to myself, what the heck is an American kid from the suburbs of Detroit doing playing for a Six Nations lacrosse team?
I was lucky enough to be drafted by the Six Nations Snipers in the Arena Lacrosse League draft in December and these past few months I was able to play my first full season of high level box lacrosse. The guys on ALL teams either have played in the NLL, are on NLL practice rosters, are trying to get on an NLL roster, or simply want to keep playing competitive lacrosse. I was definitely a fish out of water, but I could not have asked for a better team to be a part of.
On reservations like Six Nations, native players are playing a sport that has been played by their people for centuries. Lacrosse is their game and they play it the way it is supposed to be played. During games I would always hear my teammates say:
“Let’s show these guys how we play.”
What do native players play like? It is fast, free flowing, relentless, nonchalant, physical lacrosse that pushes creative boundaries and is played for more than just running around or wins and losses. I saw plays every game that I didn’t think were possible with a lacrosse stick.
Throwing flip passes and backhands with ease because they have been doing it their whole lives. They come off of a hard pick and patiently find an inch of net to score an impossible goal. Somehow holding on to the ball as they weave through two or three guys or pulling off a hidden ball trick that had me and the other team clueless to who scored. Effortlessly flying up the floor cradling the ball as naturally as Steph Curry or Lebron dribbling a basketball or McDavid handling the puck. They have the instinct to make a crazy save, pick off a pass, or bait a goalie on a breakaway that cannot be taught, but only acquired through years of hard work and playing lacrosse every chance they get. Guys on my team would play our ALL game and then play pick up lacrosse later that night. They just love to play lacrosse.
The lacrosse community gets to see this style of play from the Thompsons, Staats, Bomberrys, Powlesses, and the growing number of other native players that dot college and professional lacrosse rosters, but you have not really experienced rez ball until you have watched an entire squad of native players playing together like on a Six Nations or Iroquois Nationals team.
Their skills do not come from an instructional summer camp or watching highlights on YouTube like how I learned a lot about lacrosse growing up in Michigan.
They start playing from the time they can walk. They learn from their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and friends of their families from their first team all the way up to the highest level. Watching some of the best players in the world play for the Onondaga Redhawks, St. Regis Braves, Six Nations Rebels, Arrows, Rivermen, or Chiefs in their own backyard are the best film sessions a young native player could ever have.
Sitting in the legendary Six Nations Chiefs locker room, it was a new experience for me to look around before games and see almost all brown faces and only three or four white ones like mine. My teammates and coaches were some the nicest and funniest guys I have ever been around, but when it was time to get in the zone and play lacrosse everyone flipped the switch. Every guy plays as hard as he can to win, but no matter if we won or lost they are happy to just be playing lacrosse for a couple hours and not have to worry about work or anything else.
Especially in a league like the Arena Lacrosse League where players pay a registration fee to play, you have to be doing it for the love of the game. I drove an hour and a half from Buffalo with a teammate to and from Six Nations twice a week, and other guys drove all the way from the Akwesasne reservation about five hours away sometimes just for an hour long practice.
One of my favorite parts about playing at the ILA was all of the little kids, usually the kids of my teammates, running around the arena with their lacrosse sticks and giving you fist bumps as you got off the floor. In between every intermission they would run out to shoot on the net. Some games their youth teams would play at halftime and run around hitting each other and already scoring highlight reel goals. Then you look over and see that their coach is Cody Jamieson and it all makes sense.
All the great native players playing today were once those little kids running around the arena watching their heroes play and learning their tricks. Now they are the role models for the next generation of native lacrosse players and showing them that there are opportunities to go to the U.S. to play lacrosse while getting a degree or play professionally in the NLL, MLL, or PLL.
One of Powell Lacrosse’s mottos is “It’s in the Blood” in reference to the Powell brothers. For native players, it truly is in their blood to play lacrosse and you can see it every time they are on the floor or field.
It was an honor to play on a Six Nations lacrosse team. It strengthened my love for lacrosse after seeing how passionate they were about the sport first hand. I hope my words do Six Nations and native lacrosse players justice. If you ever get the chance to go watch a native team play do not pass it up.
You will see players truly playing with passion for lacrosse and playing a style only found on the rez.
We just lost in the ALL playoffs this past weekend, but here is one of the Six Nations Snipers games from this season showcasing great plays from natives on both teams.