Oren Lyons and the Iroquois First Nations want to heal the world with lacrosse.
The Onondaga Nation, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, will become the first indigenous people to host a major international sporting event when they welcome teams from 13 countries on Friday for the world indoor lacrosse championships.
Lyons, a faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan on the Onondaga Council of Chiefs and one of the event organizers, sees it as an opportunity for the Iroquois to unite the world.
“It’s important to have this kind of a contest and this kind of an event to raise the spirits of the people and to keep their heads up,” said the 85-year-old Lyons from his home near Syracuse, N.Y. “It’s important to have our players shaking hands across these many different nations and borders and times and issues in our common cause for world peace.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to emphasize that, and we will. Our doors are open.”
The Iroquois — spread between New York, Ontario and Quebec — are made up of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations. As the creators of the sport, the Iroquois compete in international lacrosse events with their own national team.
Ranked second in indoor lacrosse behind Canada, the Iroquois nationals are hosting the world championships for the first time in the event’s 12-year history.
“World peace is a central theme of these games, friendship and healing,” said Lyons. “The foundation of this game has been for peace and medicine, for healing. It’s always been a healing game.”
Most of the games at the 10-day competition will be held at Onondaga Nation Arena, with some marquee matchups moving to the larger War Memorial Arena in nearby Syracuse. The medal games will be held at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome on Sept. 27, with organizers hoping to set an attendance record for indoor lacrosse.
Visiting dignitaries expected to attend include the ambassadors for the Netherlands and Israel, former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, and pro football Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who is also enshrined in the lacrosse Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a member of Syracuse University’s team.
Top-ranked Canada has won all three world indoor championships — the event is held every four years — and enters this year’s competition with high expectations. Still, the cultural significance of the Iroquois hosting an event for the first time is not lost on Dan Dawson, who will make his debut as Canada’s captain.
“For me and team Canada it’s very special,” said Dawson. “This is their game. They’ve given us this amazing game that’s so rich in culture and history. Them being on home soil and hosting it, they’re going to play with a lot of emotion.
“We know it’s going to be something very special for them and we’re going to embrace all the cultural experiences that are coming with this tournament and we’re excited about the richness of the sport.”
The Iroquois earned silver at the previous three world indoor championships, but lacrosse is never just about competition for the creators of the game. According to Lyons, lacrosse’s cultural significance can’t be quantified.
“We’ve put $4.2 million into this event and we’re going to expend most of that,” said Lyons. “We’re going to get very little of that back in return. We don’t expect to and it’s our contribution to world peace because that is the essence of lacrosse.”
Although Dawson and his Canadian teammates will be competing with the Iroquois on the floor, he’s firmly in support of his opponents’ message of brotherhood.
“Yes, obviously, we’re here to win, but also we’re here to promote the sport, to play it right, the way it was meant to be played and to grow the sport as well,” said Dawson. “We have a stage here, for the first time in a long time, where I think we can take this sport to the next level and help inspire the youth of tomorrow.”
The opening ceremony will be in Syracuse’s War Memorial on Friday before the Iroquois’ game against the United States. Canada will begin play Sunday against the host side at the same venue.
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press