Dave Stout grew up on the Onondaga Nation and is living there still with his family. He played high school lacrosse as an attackman at New York state powerhouse Lafayette and is now a member of the Onondaga Redhawks. He supplied the photos of his son Brody accompanying this post, illustrating how much lacrosse means to his people.
ESPN associate producer Bryan Rourke spent time with the Onondaga, learning about their culture and the roots to the game of lacrosse.
Can you explain the passion for lacrosse and its history within the Onondaga Reservation? The game is older than the country. They say it goes back 900 years, maybe more. What is certain is the Native Americans in the Great Lakes and Upstate New York Regions invented lacrosse. It began as massive gatherings involving 100 to 1,000 men playing one game over several days with goals spread as far as two miles apart. But the ceremony known as Dehuntshigwa’es (To Bump Hips) was less a substitute for war than a way to honor the Creator. When an Iroquois dies, the first thing he does after crossing over is grab the stick laid in his coffin.
Were they open to the idea of ESPN’s cameras filming their culture? The Onondaga Nation community was very welcoming and accommodating to the ESPN crew during our two days of filming. Oren Lyons, Tadodaho Sid Hill & Neal Powless, all former Onondaga lacrosse greats and current community leaders, spent countless hours teaching us the historic meaning of the game, while also enriching us about the Onondaga culture and beliefs.
What was your personal experience being on the reservation and seeing a different way of life? When the decision was made to move forward with this project, I made it my goal to learn the Onondaga culture first-hand. I wanted to interact with the community face-to-face and spend time watching the game being taught and played amongst generations. Seeing the game thru their eyes became a priority. Over the span of three months, I made four trips to the Reservation — making friends, listening to countless stories and ultimately learning that lacrosse to the Onondaga is just not a sport, it’s a ceremony, a ritual, a medicine, a way of life.
What made ESPN want to honor the game’s origins now? We thought it was interesting how lacrosse has really started to grow over the last few years — with television coverage and youth participation to name a few — and it is actually the oldest sport in America. It is engrained in Native American history and an integral part of the Onondaga culture and spirit. The fact that there have been so many players to come out of the Onandagan reservation made it more compelling — despite the fact there are no players in this weekend’s championship.
The voices in the feature sounds full of wisdom, how was it interacting with them? It was an honor to work with former Syracuse greats, Oren Lyons and Tadodaho Sid Hill. As strong figures within the Native American community, both have a presence and aura about them. Each is soft spoken and selective with his words. Their knowledge and insight is powerful. They’ve seen the game evolve before their eyes, as technology and equipment have changed. Gone are the days of wooden sticks and deer-skin balls but both say one thing will always remain unchanged: “The Onondaga’s spirit runs through it.”