The Creator’s Game: Native American Culture and Lacrosse

Sioux Playing Ball | Charles Deas | Oil on Canvas 1843 | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Imagine running across a field. You’re tired and out of breath. You’ve been in what seems like an endless game. From sun up to sundown you’re running and fighting to make a goal. To some, it may seem like a game, but not to you. To you, it’s part of your culture, your religion, and, to you, the outcome matters.

Lacrosse was first played by Native American tribes in different regions of North America. There were many different versions of the game, rules, numbers of players, and sizes of the fields that would change depending on the tribe. Names of the game also varied, and included Creators’ Game, Baggataway, and Tewaaraton, which translates to “little brother of war.”1

Ball Players | George Catlin | Hand colored Lithograph on paper | Courtesy of Wikimedia

The name that we know today as lacrosse came about in 1636 when French Missionary Jean de Brebeuf compared the shape of the sticks used by players of the game to a bishop’s crozier, which is ‘‘crosse’’ in French.2

For many Native American tribes, lacrosse wasn’t just a sport, but rather part of their culture and their religion. Since the game was very rough and people could be injured and even die while playing, the Iroquois used lacrosse as a way of training young men to be warriors, and the game was used to settle disputes without actually going to war. This is why lacrosse is nicknamed “little brother of war.”3 Lacrosse also had religious significance among some tribes. It was called the Creator’s Game, and it helped the players put their lives into perspective and teach lessons, some of the most valuable lessons being that everyone has struggles and opponents and the key to survival is friends and allies.

In the culture of the Iroquois, when a man dies, his lacrosse stick is buried with him. They believed that the first thing he would do when he wakes up in the afterlife is to take the stick from his coffin and begin playing that day.4

Play of the Choctaw Ball Up | George Catlin | Oil on Canvas | 1843 | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Native American lacrosse was often played on a stretch of land up to two miles long with sticks between 3-5 feet long made of wood and animal skin. A game could include between one-hundred to one-thousand players at a time. There was no set time to the games. The two teams would agree on a set amount of points and would play from sunrise to sunset until the amount of points was achieved.5 Violence and injuries were very common, and players would often walk away with minor cuts, broken bones, head injuries, and occasionally a death would occur.

Few people can claim to have experienced a Native American game of Lacrosse. Artist George Catlin had a passion for learning about Native Americans, and how they lived. He once said that “If my life is spared, nothing shall stop me short of visiting every nation of Indians on the Continent of North America.” He attended a major Choctaw lacrosse game in 1834. In his time there, he recorded everything that he saw and described how the game was set up from the length of the field and deciding where the goals would be places, to how each team was set up. He described how the night before the match both teams danced and chanted all night. Each team had a medicine man who chanted incantations to strengthen their team and weaken the other. He recorded his experiences through paintings and writings.6

Lacrosse is a sport that has a beautiful history and carries a meaning that many of us will never be able to understand. To Native Americans, lacrosse was a sport, a teaching tool, a religion, and a way to connect their cultures with other tribes.7 Today the history and meaning behind lacrosse has been lost, and to many it has become just another sport played for recreation and friendly competition.

  1.  The Gale Encyclopedia of Fitness, 2012, s.v. ‘”Lacrosse,” by David E. Newton.
  2.  Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2017, s.v., “Lacrosse,” by Justin D. Garcia.
  3. Thomas Vennum Jr., “American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War,” The Journal of American Folklore 108, No. 427 (1995): 98-99.
  4. S. L. Price, “Pride of a Nation,” Sports Illustrated 113, no. 2 (2010): 60-71.
  5. Stanley A. Freed, “Lacrosse yesterday and today,” Cobblestone 15, no.9 (1994): 32.
  6. Joanna Shaw-Eagle, “Catlin saves vanishing Indians on canvas,” The Washington Times, January 4, 2003.
  7. John Seabrook, “Gathering of the Tribes,” New Yorker 74, No. 26, (August 1998): 30.
The Creator’s Game: Native American Culture and Lacrosse
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  • This was a very interesting article. It was very well put together. I am a bug sports person but when it comes to lacrosse I know very little about it. It is amazing how instead of going into war with many native americans they stayed and played a game. This lacrosse game taught many lessons and created several bridges between tribes. Even if the game was on an intense side there was never a time when the tribes would go against each other off the playing field.

  • This was such a great and well written article! It contained so much information about lacrosse I never would have imagined. I never thought of what the origins of lacrosse were, but I definitely did not know that it came from Native Americans. However, based on how their equipment for the sport was like, I could definitely see the similarities between modern day lacrosse and the lacrosse that they played. It is also amazing how instead of going to war, they would play a game. If only it were that way today.

  • Prior to reading this article, I had some knowledge of the game and its history. However, I got a better understanding of of a culture and religion. I really liked how the article began, it was a great way to get reader’s attention also, you included very great images that allowed me to compare from how it was and how it is.

  • It is really interesting learning the story behind lacrosse and finding out the origins of its creation. I have never really been interested in lacrosse but this story really spiked an interest in it for me. This article had lots of great information that shows the amount of research put in to it so good job.

  • The introduction to this article was for sure different than others as it left me with curiosity as to what the author was going to talk about. I had always assumed lacrosse came from some other country, but I had no idea Native American tribes came up with it. Even though I would never consider playing this version of Lacrosse it was interesting to learn about it.

  • This was a very interesting article. The author did a very good job at putting this article together. The introduction really brought the reader in and kept the very interested in the reading. I did not originally know that lacrosse was originally played by Native Americans. I also did not know that this was looked as a religious tradition. Overall, this was a very good article.

  • I enjoyed this article, as I never knew how important lacrosse was to the Native Americans or how the sport originally came from them. Honestly, what really surprised me was how lacrosse was used to settle disputes. If only conflicts could just as easily be solved by playing sports everywhere else, especially in 20th century Europe. Nice introduction, very informative article; excellent job!

  • Calling this article informative does not do it justice. I never knew much about lacrosse other than players used sticks with nets to catch and carry a ball, in fact I assumed it had been invented somewhere in Europe. To learn that Native American tribes not only invented lacrosse, but that it was such an important part of their faith and culture that players were buried with their sticks so they could use them in the next life, similar to the pharaohs of Egypt, is incredible. I also found it rather interesting that lacrosse was used as form of diplomacy by being an alternative form of war.

  • I remember reading this article for the first time and absolutely LOVING your introduction. I am so glad you were nominated for it! Without a doubt, it gives the reader a sense of personal connection to the text. I felt like I was out there playing. In the same manner, the uniqueness of your topic also makes the article shine. I had no idea what the origins of lacrosse were, and to learn that it originated from Native American tribes, is amazing. Very good job and best of luck!

  • I had no idea how such an interesting sport had so much meaning and purpose for its participation. It is true that lacrosse today has no meaning behind it, just like every other sport for competition. I enjoyed reading this article because it signifies the birth of this sport. The author really put detail into the article which I respect and that’s why this story was interesting.

  • An extremely well written and put together article that stayed interesting. People seem to forget that Lacrosse was the invention of the Native American people. It was more then a game, but a way to settle disputes between tribes. Not to mention how brutal it could be. Running across a field of two miles with thousand of players and hitting each full force with wooden sticks. It makes you want to see it for yourself.

  • This was a very interesting story that I had no prior knowledge to. I would have never even guessed that Native Americans played lacrosse. It sounds very brutal that so much damage could come to players from a game, such as broken bones and even death. Sports can be dangerous, but I am glad there is a lot of protection today such as padding and helmets that keep players more safe. I do not even know anybody with the type of endurance to play a day long match of lacrosse. It really shows how human activity has changed over the decades.

  • I would have never thought that the game of lacrosse was first invented by the Native Americans. Not only was it invented by Native Americans but it was invented by the Iroquois. They were known for the powerfulness in the northeast. Not many people know this but the name Iroquois is given to them by the French there original name is the Haudenosaunee. Anyways, good work on the article it was very informative.

  • This article was very interesting. I myself have never played lacrosse before however i have watched a few games when i was in high school. I never wondered about its origins or where it came from and i had no clue that i would have come from a native american game that they used to train their warriors or to settle conflicts without having to go to war. This article makes me wonder what else in our society has been taken from other culture that i have no idea about. Great article.

  • this was a very well put together article that was very well written. I didn’t know that the game lacrosse had so much history behind it. it is a great thing that a game was played instead of killing one another. violence is a chain reaction so if two countries will just keep going at it with each other until one cannot afford and more casualties

  • What an interesting article. I never knew the history of Lacrosse and you did a great job teaching it to me. It’s actually interesting that Lacrosse comes from Native Americans because like you said the name is French. It’s also interesting to me because ,y father used to play Lacrosse and we are from Native American descent. It’s interesting to know that my dad was playing a game of his ancestor’s culture and he didn’t even know it.

  • The way this article was approach was excellent. It is very well researched, finding a direct source in George Catlin. It is encouraging to see that lacrosse carries such a historical significance that affects our culture today. The weight of the game in its function for the Native Americans connects the players of today with the original peoples of this nation. It is astonishingly horrible to think that some of these games ended in death. Great article!

  • A field of play 2 miles long and up to 1000 players. That is so far removed from modern American sports that I struggle to find anything close to that scale. The closest I could find was Polo. A Polo field is 300 yards long. That’s only around twenty percent of a mile. There are only four players per side.
    I watched a short documentary about Native American lacrosse players in the present who earn athletic scholarships for college. Most of them do very well on the field. I am not surprised given that it is historically their sport.

  • I love you the introduction! Without a doubt, it gives the reader a sense of personal connection to the text. This was a total learning session for me, I had no idea lacrosse originated from Native American tribes, a very popular sport today! You explain the origins of lacrosse in a very straightforward way, making it easier to understand. It is interesting that the purpose of lacrosse was not recreational, but rather to settle disputes. Good thing that High School across the country has changed that! Very interesting article, great job!

  • This was a well written article. I did not originally know that lacrosse was originally played by Native Americans. I also did not know that this was looked as a religious tradition. Lacrosse was one of the original sports dated a long time back. It was also used as a way to train men. Overall, this was a very well written article.

  • Who knew that a sport so popular like lacrosse was another one of the things the Americans colonized from Native Americans. I had no clue that this sport had originated from indigenous tribes who invented this sport as a form of practicing their religion and cultural values. Sad that this is yet another thing we stole from this culture though.

  • Wow, I did not know that Native Americans played lacrosse and it was a part of their culture. I never knew the origins of this sport; however, this article was very informative and gave a small insight to the game that Native Americans would play. The introduction was also very intriguing and had me reading the rest of the article.

  • I don’t know much about sports nor do I follow it religiously but this was a very engaging article to read. The origins and meaning of lacrosse is varied, from tribe to tribe each game was different but it was all meant to unite the men playing and possibly the different tribes involved in the game. This was a very important and religious symbol for Native Americans that has lasted the test of time.

  • I found it as a nice change to begin reading an article by proposing an imaginary story. It doesn’t open with facts but with a hypothetical. I thought it w as interesting that lacrosse was in use before its name used today. The paintings used to portray what active sports were part of the native american culture was interesting to see. The quotes portraying the passion for native americans and their culture was extremely interesting

  • This was a very interesting article, I personally never knew the origins of this sport. It is a sport enriched with deeper meaning than what it is now. It is interesting how the Native Americans created a way to stop war from happening, even though there was still violence going on, and that it was a way for their religion to be taught.

  • I thought this article was very interesting and the way the author wrote it kept me interested the whole time. I found it interesting how they were doing something that was a part of their culture while many people now just do it as a sport/game. This changed the way that I personally saw the sport because of its great history,

  • I agree with the author that the history and meaning of lacrosse has been lost. I have heard of this game before and know that it is tough but never knew it had such meaning behind it. I only really knew that it was a game that was taken seriously mainly cause it can be dangerous and not for the weak. It makes sense that the Native American are the ones who invented it because they were known to be ruthless and very good warriors in their own way.

  • In middle school and high school gym classes, we would sometimes play lacrosse, but I never thought of its origins. I always assumed it might have originated somewhere in Europe and was brought to North America through migration when explorations took place. I never would have thought that Native Americans were behind the sport. It’s interesting how Americans have taken their sport, which they took very seriously, and turned it into their own thing with our own rules and only play it “for fun”. This really makes you think about where other sports originated from.

  • Very informative and well written article. Upon reading this article I had no idea that it was actually Native Americans who had created the sport of Lacrosse. I’m surprised at the sheer number of players that played in these games, some 100 to 1,000. It was interesting to learn that Lacrosse served multiple purposes for Native Americans, such as religious purposes, and being a tool for teaching.

  • As a huge sports fan, thank you for writing about Lacrosse. I have heard of lacrosse before, but I knew little of its origins. I had no idea it was a Native American sport that was played for different reasons compared to its current modern incarnation. I also found it interesting how the game varied tribe to tribe and how it was more than just sport to them.

  • This article was very interesting in the topic. I had no idea of the origins of lacrosse, and the significance that it meant for the native Americans. The culture of the game has been stripped from the meaning of the sport. It has lost the roots of the game. Instead of going to war they played a game which sounds crazy now. But instead of shedding blood they found a peaceful way to settle disputes between tribes. This article kept my attention the whole time reading it, it was very well written and put together.

  • I never knew the history behind lacrosse. I wonder how it transitioned to the lacrosse we know today. It would be interesting to see one of there games. It could give us an insight into Native American culture. The article says that they would play games instead of going to war sometimes. I find it fascinating that tribes would play against each other.

  • Your article was not only well written but also very informative. I am not a big sports fan but have heard of the game Lacrosse. I don’t know much about it beyond the name. Your story shows the dark side of cultural appropriation. The game of Lacrosse has a history rooted in religion and culture. I was unaware of this history and saw it as merely a sport. Your article highlights the importance of continuing to educate yourself in regards to history and those that came before us.

  • This article was well put together, and the featured image influenced my interest in reading “The Creator’s Game.” I enjoyed how the author provided background information on the establishment of Lacrosse, and how the rules have changed overtime. I bet the traditional “Creator’s Game,” was intense and fun to play, because the games allowed one-hundred to one-thousand players to participate. However, the only negative aspect of the Creator’s Game is that there was a high chance of death and severe injuries.

  • I have always been very interested in many sports but one I never played was lacrosse, since it was never really popular in the area I lived in and because of my small stature. I feel that the meaning of all sports has been diluted down to just pure competition and no more familial meaning to it. Granted people do in fact grow up with these sports, especially the athletes themselves, but the game has more to do with winning now than just learning.

  • I enjoyed reading Zeresh Haman because I have always had some sort of interest in the Native American Culture. It was fascinating to learn that a sport like lacrosse is rooted from the Native American culture. The background information provided by Harman is helpful because It allows the reader to picture the manners and traditions of Indigenous people. A wonderful cultural article.

  • I have grown up watching Notre Dame Lacrosse since I was young. This article was really well written and I really enjoyed it. It was wild how people used to die playing this sport though. But its awesome how they used Lacrosse as a way to train there young warriors to become men and protect the tribe that they are apart of.

  • Wow! An extremely well-managed article. The content was completely new for me; therefore, i got the chance to learn many things through your article. Furthermore, i really love the pictures that you have used. It is amazing how lacrosse was a sport, a teaching tool, a religion, and a way to connect their cultures with other tribes to Native Americans. Moreover, it was interesting to read that Iroquois used lacrosse as a way of training young men to be warriors, to settle disputes without actually going to war. To sum it up, it was an interesting read.

  • This article was very entertaining to read. I really enjoyed learning about the history of lacrosse because lacrosse has always been an interesting sport to me. The fact that it was created by the Indians amazed me because I had always thought it had come from a European country, and they brought it to the Americas in their travels. Great job on this article!

  • This is a really cool and interesting article. I, not being a big fan of lacrosse, don’t know much about the sport. I find it very interesting that it’s origins came from the Native Americans. In a way lacrosse to the natives, is like football to Americans today. Of course, there is a greater purpose and significance for the natives. Still, I can not imagine playing from sunrise to sunset. Also, wouldn’t it be great if, as nations, we could settle disputes through sports?

  • This was a very good article. I did not know a lot about lacrosse before reading this piece, so the history of it was very surprising to me. I cannot imagine having to watch a game where there are more than one hundred people actively playing at the same time. I think that it is very interesting that they would use lacrosse as a way to train the boys. I am sure that many of the people that play lacrosse do not have any idea about the history of this sport.

  • Very interesting article! I have never heard about the history of lacrosse before! This article was very informative, and provided many surprising facts about the history of lacrosse. It is cool to hear the history of sports and how they began! I would’ve never guessed that the Native Americans created the game of lacrosse. It is super interesting that the Native Americans used the game of lacrosse to train their men for battle, but it shows how competitive the game is when the Native Americans often died while playing the game. Very cool!

  • This story was very interesting to me. Hearing a little about the history of lacrosse in one of my other classes a few weeks ago interested me, which is why I read this article. I find it amazing how it was not only a game for these Native Americans but a way a life and a part of their religion. I found it very interesting how men were buried with their lacrosse sticks in hope that they would be able to play in their after life. This was a very well written and interesting article.

  • A simple and well put together article. I never once thought of where Lacrosse had come from, and its origins baffle me. I had no idea Native Americans concocted this sport, but I wonder how it evolved to what it is today. Nowadays, it seems far less rough and gruesome sounding. I’m not sure if anyone really dies playing Lacrosse now.

  • Learning about the history of Lacrosse was very intriguing. It is interesting that a simple game that is still played today, less aggressive of course, is such an important role in the culture of Native Americans. It goes to show how important it is to their culture by the amount of competition and aggression they put into each game.

  • This story is very interesting, I didn’t know lacrosse had so much history behind it, the culture and meaning of it was powerful. Also it was a fun and strategic way to train the men. Battle and war is always so serious. I’m happy that this sport was passed down into our generation, although its not as popular as other sports which it should be. I also like the pictures and the attire. the feathers and color are very unique.

  • I have never really been introduced to or researched Lacrosse before, so this article gave me a lot of knowledge and insight on the sport. It was cool to learn that, to Native Americans, lacrosse wasn’t simply a sport that they used to pass time, but a serious part of their culture in which people could even die. It helped them become better fighters and warriors that were ready for war. It helped them teach lessons and even was an integral part of their death. I was never before aware of the great significance of lacrosse in Native American culture, so this article truly taught me a lot.

  • What a truly interesting background to a sport. In Scotland, we have something similar called “Shinty”, which can also turn very violent. Its crazy to think that a death in these sort of games was normalised and that it could be expected to come off the field with broken bones. I had no idea of the aged background to Lacrosse and this article really captured it well

  • Very well written article! I found myself reading this so fast – you did a great job at making this article flow from beginning to end. I had no idea that lacrosse was that serious, I also had no idea that the sport dated that far back. It makes me think about what other sports could have been around way back then that we don’t particularly know about their roots and specific origin.

  • The Iroquois and other Native American cultures began such an innovative tradition by participating in the tradition of lacrosse. I found it interesting how not only was lacrosse played as a game, but also as a religious tradition, to settle disputes rather than begin wars and to train young men. This article was well-written and clearly explained the origins of lacrosse and the role it played in Native American cultures when it was first invented.

  • A extremely well written and put together article. When most people think about Lacrosse they picture a bunch of white boys in pads and forget about its roots. Its amazing how instead of going to war with hundreds of casualties the Native Americans played a game. A game that taught life lessons and created bridges between the tribes, even if the game was on the intense side.

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