December 13, 2021
The Iroquois Nationals Men’s Lacrosse Team represents the Iroquois Confederacy in international field lacrosse competition. They are currently ranked third in the world after winning Bronze at the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship. Eight teams were selected to participate in the 2022 championship based on where the team finished in the 2018 Federation of International World Championship. The Iroquois finished third and Ireland finished 12th, but the Nationals were deemed ineligible to compete by the International World Games Association (IWGA) because the team does not represent a sovereign nation and do not have an Olympic Committee. In August, the IWGA said it was willing to reverse course if a place could be found for the Iroquois team. In a remarkable show of sportsmanship, Ireland’s lacrosse team is withdrawing from the tournament to allow the Native American team to play instead.
When I looked online, I found lacrosse is a team sport played with a lacrosse stick and a lacrosse ball. It is the oldest organized sport in North America, and according to the Iroquois Nationals, was created by Native Americans as early as the 12th century. The game was extensively modified by European colonists to reduce the violence and to create its current collegiate and professional form. Players use the head of the lacrosse stick to carry, pass, catch, and shoot the ball into the goal. The modern sport is governed by World Lacrosse and is the only international sport organization to (now) recognize First Nations bands and Native American tribes as sovereign nations. Lacrosse has been contested at two editions of the Summer Olympic Games, 1904 and 1908. It was also held as a demonstration event at the 1928, 1932, and 1948 Summer Olympics. There are plans to return lacrosse to the Olympics in 2028.
The connection between the Choctaw people and the Irish has existed for nearly 175 years. The ties began in 1847, when the Choctaws took up a collection and donated over $5,000 (today’s money) to support the Irish during the Potato Famine which ravaged Ireland during the 1840’s. The Choctaw had faced their own hardship and starvation along the “trail of tears and death” on their way to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1831. The Choctaw donation was sent to the town of Midleton in County Cork, south of Dublin. It was not until many decades later, the townspeople realized their aid had come from a people who were themselves reestablishing their society and their government after the long and painful migration. Since that time, both their ancient tongues almost became extinct, and have been rescued and made into working languages again through concerted effort and sophisticated approaches. Both peoples continue to successfully preserve their cultures and traditions.
Thoughts: The relationship between the Choctaw and Irish has rekindled over the last 25 years. In 1995 the Irish President visited the Choctaw Nation to reestablish the friendship and thank Choctaws for their aid. In 2017 Midleton dedicated a commemorative sculpture in the local park called “Kindred Spirits.” In 2020 the story took a new twist with the covid death toll in the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation. The Irish sent aid with the Choctaws in mind to assist the Navajo and Hopi. According to Chief Gary Batton, “Adversity often brings out the best in people . . . We have become kindred spirits with the Irish in the years since the Irish Potato Famine . . . Sharing our cultures makes the world grow smaller.” This is a lesson for us all to learn. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.