May 12, 2007

Lacrosse player crosses the line

Cradle of a Sport Has Crossed the Gender LineOn the Onondaga Nation near Syracuse, Jeanne Shenandoah adores lacrosse. All eight of her brothers played it. She scours the papers for scores of the local indoor team. But when it comes to women playing the game that her Iroquois forefathers originated centuries ago, the conversation turns tense.

“This is a precious, sacred area for me,” she said in a room at the Onondaga Communications Office where she works. “To our community and families, lacrosse is a sacred medicine.”

To the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora and Mohawk—the six nations that comprise the Iroquois confederacy that controlled most of present-day New York before colonization—lacrosse was a gift from the creator to be played by men for healing purposes. It continues to be played in ceremonies and at the request of any individual, clan or for the entire confederacy, anyone who needs its curative powers. Because of its deep, spiritual significance, women are not even allowed to touch a stick.

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