‘Gift from the creator’

Cana­dian lacrosse’s First Na­tions ori­gins cel­e­brated as sport turns 150

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY MOR­GAN LOWRIE

It was a game of lacrosse like few get to see: a group of youths, shirt­less and mostly bare­foot, with no hel­mets or pad­ding, rac­ing af­ter a leather ball with hand-made wooden sticks.

There were no ref­er­ees, few rules and no line changes — only a wild free-for-all as the boys jos­tled and shoved, work­ing to fling the ball at the wooden posts at each end.

The game, which took place re­cently at McGill Univer­sity in Mon­treal, was or­ga­nized to cel­e­brate the 150th an­niver­sary of or­ga­nized lacrosse — and to highlight the game’s First Na­tions ori­gins, which go back much fur­ther.

While the rules of mod­ern lacrosse were adopted in 1867, the sport de­vel­oped from a cen­turies cul­tural and spir­i­tual ac­tiv­ity prac­ticed by sev­eral First Na­tions tribes.

Louis Delisle, a Hall of Fame lacrosse player who hails from the Kah­nawake Mo­hawk ter­ri­tory south of Mon­treal, said it’s im­pos­si­ble to know when the game started.

“But what’s im­por­tant is we all played it, and called it the creator’s game be­cause was a gift from the creator,” he said in an in­ter­view.

He said the game was some­times played with hun­dreds of play­ers on each side on a ter­rain that could span sev­eral kilo­me­tres.

“It was a sport but it was also a train­ing ground, a way to de­velop your en­durance, your tough­ness, your tac­tics in learn­ing how to use that stick to pro­tect your­self and also to at­tack your en­emy,” he said.

In 1867, Canada’s first sports gov­ern­ing body adopted the first of­fi­cial lacrosse rule­book, which had been writ­ten by Ge­orge Beers, a den­tist from Mon­treal who had fallen in love with the game.

Nets were brought in, field sizes were re­duced and the num­ber of play­ers was stan­dard­ized, ac­cord­ing to Jim Calder, who has au­thored a book on the sport’s his­tory.

But al­though lacrosse quickly be­came pop­u­lar, Calder says no gov­ern­ment records ex­ist to prove it was ever of­fi­cially des­ig­nated as Canada’s na­tional game.

He says while it’s pos­si­ble the doc­u­men­ta­tion has been lost, it is more likely that Beers sim­ply con­vinced peo­ple to view it that way.

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