Iroquois Play Host To 11 Countries At Lacrosse World Championships The Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe in New York, is hosting the world indoor lacrosse championship. It's the first time an indigenous sovereign territory has hosted a major sports tournament.

Iroquois Play Host To 11 Countries At Lacrosse World Championships

Iroquois Play Host To 11 Countries At Lacrosse World Championships

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The Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe in New York, is hosting the world indoor lacrosse championships. It's the first time an indigenous sovereign territory has hosted a major sports tournament — and it comes at a time when Iroquois brothers are the sport's rising stars.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There's an international sports tournament happening right now on a reservation near Syracuse, N.Y. Organizers are calling it the first such tournament to happen on sovereign indigenous land. The Onondaga Nation is hosting the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship. It's like the World Cup of lacrosse, a sport that was invented by Native Americans. North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein sent this report.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN, BYLINE: It's a sold-out crowd at the Tsha'Hon'nonyen'dakhwa' Arena, Onondaga for where they play games. Twelve countries are competing for the gold medal, including the sports powerhouses - the U.S., Canada and the Iroquois Nationals.

(CHEERING)

SOMMERSTEIN: The Nationals are known for creative, lightning-quick play, and they're on their way to dismantling England 20-6. The team is led by the Thompsons, four Iroquois brothers who grew up on the reservation in this rural part of upstate New York. And they're rising stars in one of America's fastest-growing sports.

MILES FARRINGTON: They're just really fast-moving and high energy.

SOMMERSTEIN: Eleven-year-old Miles Farrington, here from D.C., learned to play at one of the camps the Thompsons hold across the country. He loves one of their signature moves.

MILES: Like, they come across the crease and they'll turn around and just crank it behind the back.

SOMMERSTEIN: The Thompsons have their own apparel line, their own Nike cleat coming this fall. But in the glare of the sports spotlight, the brothers are known for their humility rooted in the ancient traditions of the game. Lyle Thompson won the award for best U.S. collegiate player twice last year with one of his brothers. He says it means a lot to his people to host these world games. When I ask why, it's almost like it's too obvious to answer.

LYLE THOMPSON: Well, it's what, I guess, everyone does. It's what we're surrounded by.

SOMMERSTEIN: Many Iroquois boys are given lacrosse sticks before they can walk. It's not just sport, it's sacred. After a team practice, the players gather in a circle with the team's spiritual advisor, Tracy Shenandoah. They pass a tobacco pipe and a thermos of medicinal tea. It's a private ceremony, but Shenandoah agrees to explain it to me.

TRACY SHENANDOAH: To help strengthen their minds. A good mind, as it prevails in this game. And refrain from anger, frustration, refrain from trying to deliberately hurt somebody else playing.

SOMMERSTEIN: Playing lacrosse is different here, says Australian goalie Dillon Ningle.

DILLON NINGLE: It's got a different feel to it for sure. You're not just playing lacrosse out here, you're doing it for everything else that it stands for as well.

SOMMERSTEIN: The visiting players learn this is a game from the creator that can heal as well as entertain, says Oren Lyons. Lyons is an Onondaga chief, a former lacrosse standout himself and a longtime indigenous rights leader around the world. In the end, he says, lacrosse offers these national teams a lesson.

OREN LYONS: Not to say they're all playing fiercely against one another, but the theme is world peace, and put your guns down, pick up a stick, you know? And we literally used to do that. I mean, we would settle - nations would settle a difference with a game.

SOMMERSTEIN: The Iroquois's game against England was just a warm-up, really, for the push to Sunday's final. Each of the three times this world championship has been played since 2003, the Iroquois Nationals have come out second to Canada.

Lenny Bennett's a fan from the Seneca Nation, another Iroquois tribe near Buffalo.

LENNY BENNETT: This is a one in a lifetime event here, for us.

SOMMERSTEIN: To maybe see his team win on home ground, but, more importantly, for the world to see where Iroquois people and their game got started. For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein.

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