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Peter Garrow
Peter Garrow

The spiritual side of playing lacrosse

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The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, near Massena, is hosting a day devoted to the game of lacrosse. The event, at Generations Park in Hogansburg, will include some of the best Mohawk lacrosse players, demonstrations, workshops, art exhibits and a couple of field lacrosse games. As part of National Aboriginal Day on Thursday, the game's more serious and spiritual role in indigenous cultures will be explored. Todd Moe spoke with Peter Garrow, chairman of the "Our History, Our Game" event. He says it's being organized by members of the Akwesasne Lacrosse Hall of Fame, who want to pass on their skills and knowledge to a new generation.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

The “Our History, Our Game” event begins at 9:30 a.m. and includes demonstrations, skills-building workshops, panel discussions, arts, crafts and an afternoon lacrosse game. According to event chairman Peter Garrow, there are three themes for the lacrosse event tomorrow.

“It started with our Akwesasne lacrosse hall of fame committee,” said Garrow. “We said, you know, we need to start depicting the game of lacrosse spiritually as the creator’s game and what it means to us, not only to our players, but also throughout history.”

Garrow says that it is important to convey how the game has affected the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe as they were giving back to the creator, and that this sparked the inception of the event. The bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812 was further incentive to develop this day. “When you look at the history books, lacrosse has played an important role even before certain battles or even during the battles up in Michigan,” said Garrow, who explained that it was depicted as being similar to a Trojan Horse in that forces were able to take over a fort by using lacrosse as a ruse.

“We looked at it as something even pre-battle or even taking the place of a battle, playing the game to settle disputes,” said Garrow. After the war of 1812, the Treaty of Gent established the land border of the tribe. The  Revolutionary War that followed resulted in the Treaty of Paris, which further examined borders between Canada and the United States at the time. There will be a number of ethnohistorians at the event who will discuss the impacts that these treaties had. The event will also include a demonstration game featuring lacrosse players from the tribe as well as a Choctaw player who will do a demonstration of the Choctaw stick game.

Some members of the community worry that the younger generation has lost the historic cultural connection to the game of lacrosse, but large numbers of children consistently come forward to play the game. Garrow said, “I remember going through cities and seeing kids, you know, playing softball or baseball or throwing a ball around or that type of thing, but in our community, it’s the lacrosse stick that for all ages, kids are throwing the lacrosse ball around.”

 Local teams use the fields around the reservation to practice, and the sport has grown in its popularity. “We don’t want to lose the spiritual aspect of the game itself, so that’s why we want to put this on” said Garrow. “I think many of our kids do know it, but we don’t want to lose that aspect for all of our kids.”

Garrow also hopes that the event will be enjoyed by the tribe’s neighbors, and for them to be able to recognize that lacrosse has a historical context. Given the sport’s current popularity at universities, many new enthusiasts of the sport may not realize that it has been played for centuries.

The game was originally a medicine game, or a game meant to heal. According to Garrow, the game was seen as being a gift from the creator, and teams would play to the best of their ability to please him. “That’s where all the aspects of the training comes in, the dedication of the game, to give back to it.” The game was also used to settle disputes between clans or tribes. Rather than enter battle, they called a game of lacrosse.

This event coincides with National Aboriginal Day on the Canadian side of the reservation, so people will be coming from Canada to celebrate this holiday. “We’re hoping on the U.S. side that people coming through our community, or even if they haven’t planned field trips from school or what have you, that this might be a possibility of them coming to Two Generations Park to view this, but also to listen to the speakers.” Drummers will also perform, and a wide array of speakers and panelists will discuss the game of lacrosse and tell stories about their experience with the game.

Garrow was awarded a Diamond Jubilee Medal in April for his work in education. “It was quite an honor, and a number of people that I worked with in Ottawa when I was director of education for the Assembly of First Nation, or even prior to that, they indicated to me that they wanted to put my name forward for this prestigious award,” said Garrow. He had forgotten about the award until it was announced, and ultimately presented the award in Parliament with his family in attendance. “Winning the award of course meant a lot to me, but having the presence of my family all around me, my three boys and my wife, it was quite a historic event for me and very personal.”

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