Central New York, Community, Sports

Festival Uses Lacrosse to Educate on Haudenosaunee Culture

Since 2013, the Indigenous Values Initiative has hosted the Wooden Stick Festival. This year, by teaming up with LaxAllStars North American Invitational, lacrosse is becoming its most powerful education tool to prove that the culture of the Onondaga Nation is alive and well.

SYRACUSE N.Y. — When baby boys are born on the Onondaga Nation, they are given a lacrosse stick. The game is present in their life from the very day they are born. But lacrosse, or Deyhontsigwa’ehs, meaning “they bump hips” in the native Haudenosaunee language, is more than just a game.

“Lacrosse is big here,” says Curtis Waterman, an environmental technician, who grew up in the Onondaga Nation. “It’s big here because we view lacrosse as the creator’s game.”

The Haudenosaunee people believe that the game was given to them by the creator. Each game of lacrosse is, therefore, played as an offering of thanksgiving to honor the creator.

The Wooden Stick Festival, hosted by the Indigenous Values Initiative, has, since 2013, gathered together craft vendors, invited speakers, and shared traditional songs and dances for the public’s enjoyment, free of cost. This year, the festival merged with LaxAllstars North American Invitational box lacrosse tournament. The competition features 21 teams from a handful of different countries, including those as far away as Israel.

Philip Arnold, President of the Indigenous Values Institute and chair of the Religion Department at Syracuse University, saw this festival and his job with the Institute as a mere extension of his duties as a professor.

“Our goal at the Indigenous Values Initiative is really to inform people about the Haudenosaunee through lacrosse,” he said. “And really the Wooden Stick is the best … vehicle for discussing the values of the Haudenosaunee.”

For Waterman, the festival has been important for the nation, as it shows the nearby community, and visitors from around the world that the traditions of the Onondaga people have not gone dormant. With its excitement and family-friendly atmosphere, it shows, in fact, that they as a people continue to thrive.

“To show other nations that we still have culture, we still have language. We still exist through our culture, through our language. That’s what keeps us as Haudenosaunee people.”

Waterman also hopes that the average visitor comes away realizing a deeper connection with the Haudenosaunee nation and the people around them as part of the larger human race. As elementary school students from on and off of the reservation danced to the traditional music of the Onondaga people , he couldn’t help but point it out.

“It doesn’t matter who’s on the left, who’s on the right,” he exclaimed. “You hold hands. You’re sharing a human-ness with one another.”

The Wooden Stick Festival will continue on the Onondaga Nation this Friday and Saturday and conclude with a trio of international lacrosse scrimmages in the Carrier Dome on Sunday.