Lacrosse women get a chance to shine
Mia Martin has a deep respect for her heritage.
She also loves box lacrosse and thinks “girls should be able to do anything boys do.”
For a long time, though, those two things were at odds in Haudosaunee culture.
Among some Iroquois, they still are.
That’s why this week is meaningful — for Martin, for her teammates, for her competitors.
The 14-year-old defender from Six Nations is playing for Team Ontario in the North American Indigenous Games — which, for the first time in their 25-year history, include women’s box lacrosse.
The Games start Sunday and continue until July 23 in Toronto, Hamilton and venues across the GTHA.
“I hope it gets bigger, just like boys’ lacrosse,” Martin said. “I’m really excited.”
In some places, and Six Nations is an example, Haudenosaunee women have played organized box lacrosse for well over a decade. But because of the sport’s history, that’s not universal. Here’s why. In Haudenosaunee culture, women were traditionally forbidden from playing lacrosse because of its violent, sometimes deadly, nature. As life-bearers and nurturers, “they’re sacred,” said Dawn Martin-Hill, chair in Indigenous studies at McMaster University, “and no one would be able to withstand or stomach their sister or their mother — somebody they cared deeply about — being hurt in a game. That would be, historically, cause for war.”
Over time, however, the sport has become modernized through the adoption of metal sticks, for instance, and teams rather than clans. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s played outside of the traditional context, which is one argument for women to be included.
Another is that the benefits of allowing women to compete — everything from the promotion of health to the development of selfesteem — outweigh the harms.
“To me, because of the day and age we’re living in and what our young girls are going through, we have to adjust and evolve and chance,” said Martin-Hill, who was among those who fought for women to play at Six Nations in the 1990s.
While box lacrosse is now popular on the reserve, in some places, including the Onondaga Nation in upstate New York, women are still banned from the sport.
Pat Pembleton, the Team Ontario coach, said he’s honoured to be behind the bench for this historic competition. Martin and her teammates are determined, talented and love the sport and includ-
ing them is the right move.
“It’s important that the women are finally being recognized and being able to play the game,” he said.
“It’s something that’s new to a lot of these girls, because it wasn’t accepted before. It was just the men playing.”
Around a quarter of Pembleton’s roster is from Six Nations or the Hamilton area, which means they won’t have to travel far to compete.
Including box lacrosse, which is being played at Harry Howell Arena and Iroquois Lacrosse Arena between Monday and Friday, five of the Games’ 14 sports are being hosted locally.
Softball takes place at Turner Park, 3-D archery at the Hamilton Angling and Hunting Association, paddling at the Welland International Flatwater Centre and soccer at Ron Joyce Stadium.
More than 5,000 Indigenous athletes between the ages of 13 and 18