On the side of a soccer-turned-lacrosse field in Prague, the purple banner with white rectangles and a tree immediately catches the eye among the usual national flags.
A Native American woman in a purple sweatshirt watches the ongoing lacrosse battle intently, then turns and says casually: “It’s our game back home, you know?”
Charlene Thomas, general manager of the Native American Haudenosaunee team, had taken her “girls” to Prague for the women’s lacrosse World Cup — the first such event for the team.
“We wanted to see our girls have their dream come true and this day, this year has done it for them,” said Thomas, a retiree who does her current job as a volunteer.
Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) is a confederacy of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations living mostly in upstate New York and the Ontario province in Canada.
It joined the international women’s lacrosse federation (IFWLA) only two years ago, after complying with the Native American tradition.
“We presented our request to the chiefs, and they gave us consent,” Thomas said.
Unlike their counterparts in men’s lacrosse, the Iroquois Nationals, who have played at four World Cups to date, the women’s team was officially established only last August.
When the IFWLA decided Haudenosaunee could play in Prague, the team posted an advertisement looking for a general manager, a head coach, an assistant coach and a trainer.
Kathy Smith, chairwoman of the Haudenosaunee Nation Women’s Lacrosse Board, said the coaches then chose the team out of 50 girls, an extremely low player base compared with powerhouses such as the US or Australia, the World Cup finalists.
“We have three on the team now who are not Haudenosaunee, but they have to be a native person from some other community — so they’re all Native Americans,” Smith said.
It was only natural for Haudenosaunee to join the IFWLA, which has in the meantime merged with the men’s association ILF to form a brand new body, the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL).
“We have recognized ourselves as a sovereign nation — we have never been conquered, we have never been defeated,” Smith said.
The Haudenosaunee proudly claim their right to the game which has a long tradition — the Creator invented lacrosse “when he was making mother Earth and at the end of his duties he wanted to make some fun time,” Thomas said.
“We say it’s the Creator’s game because he gave it to the men to play to entertain him. When we play the game we always know the Creator’s watching. That’s why it’s very important that we play in a good way,” Smith said.
Ondrej Mika, the head coordinator with the World Cup organizing committee, agreed Haudenosaunee’s presence at the tournament was justified.
“This is a historic matter because it’s originally their game. The women’s team has been together for a short time but it’s a game of their ancestors so they have this historic claim,” he said.
Thomas said she wanted Haudenosaunee above all to “get our foot in the door” in the tournament.
“Our plans are to keep on going from this point on. I think now that we’re in we want to build our organization,” she said.
For the Prague tournament, Haudenosaunee were placed in a group with other World Cup newcomers Austria and Denmark, whom they trashed with an impressive overall score of 36-2.
But they lost the key game for a spot in the eight-team playoffs to Ireland.
Backed by a small but loud group of fans, Haudenosaunee in the end took the eleventh place after winning two of their three final matches.
“It’s a learning experience —this has opened the eyes of many players who are learning the hard way,” Thomas said.
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