The Iroquois Nationals team is the only Native American team authorized to play a sport internationally. The FIL accepted the Iroquois Confederacy as a full member nation in 1987, and they participated in their first competition in 1990. As part of the agreement with the FIL, Native Americans from other tribes are also eligible to tryout and play for the Nationals.
The Nationals have been endorsed by Nike since 2008, and receive other funding from various sources including prominent Native American businesses.
American lacrosse has historically been concentrated in New York, New England, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, where it has been played predominantly at prep schools and private universities, but after World War II its popularity began to grow and that growth accelerated during the 1970s. There are two professional leagues in North America with 17 franchises between them, and franchises in Denver and Buffalo regularly have an attendance of more than 15,000 fans.
In the early 1900s lacrosse became recognized as a world class sport and was accepted as an Olympic sport and the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse League (USILL) was formed. In 1926, the USILL was replaced by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association, which is still the governing body of the sport of lacrosse today.
New York University boasted the country’s 1st college team in 1877, and Philips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire, Philips Andover Academy, Massachusetts and the Lawrenceville School, New Jersey were the nations’ 1st high school teams in 1882. Lacrosse continued to grow in North America during the mid 1900s, and today the game is played by over five-hundred universities and colleges, as well as over fourteen-hundred high schools nationwide.
The rules, codified by W. George Beers in 1869, had the effect of virtually divorcing the Indians from the game. Beers described the Indian version as barbaric and said he sought to civilize and improve the game. The European desire for order resulted in playing fields with boundaries and standard numbers of players. The National Lacrosse Association of Canada ruled in 1880 that only amateurs could play. That effectively kept Indian teams out of championship competition (which they had been winning) because they accepted expense and appearance money. Nearly a century later, Indians were further removed from the game they invented when the white lacrosse world switched from wooden sticks (mostly made by Indians) to plastic ones.
There is no evidence of non-Indians taking up the game until the mid-nineteenth century, when English-speaking Montrealers adopted the Mohawk game they were familiar with from Caughnawauga and Akwesasne, attempted to "civilize" the sport with a new set of rules and organize into amateur clubs. Once the game quickly grew in popularity in Canada, it began to be exported throughout the Commonwealth, as non-native teams traveled to Europe for exhibition matches against Iroquois players.
According to histories of the game, it was John de Brebeuf who named the present day version of the Indian game lacrosse because the stick used reminded him of a bishop‘s crosier (la crosse).
Culin summarizes the wide variation of lacrosse balls by saying: "The balls used vary greatly in material. The commonest form is covered with buckskin, but other balls are made of wood, of bladder netted with sinew, and of cordage, bone, or stone." There was also a wide variation in size. The balls used in the Southeast appear to have been smaller than those in the Northeast because of the utilization of two rackets of smaller size. Observers have recorded that the balls in the Southeast ranged from golf ball size to ones somewhat smaller than tennis balls. Among the Chippewa, Delawares, Menominee, and Miami, the lacrosse balls were larger and are described as greater in diameter than baseballs and tennis balls. Some were even fashioned of soft pouches with no real symmetry.
In early games, just running up and down the field was a great feat. Goals could be as far as 500 yards to half a mile apart and no sidelines limited the playing area. Games lasted two to three days with “time outs” between sundown and sunup. Teams had as many as 1,000 players vying to move a small, deerskin ball past their opponent’s goal.
Rules and equipment varied. Southeastern tribes, such as the Cherokee, played with twin sticks and kept the ball between the two sticks. The Great Lakes stick has a circular pocket at the end of the stick. The Iroquois stick is the one that has evolved into what most non-Indian players today would recognize as a lacrosse stick. The field and numbers of players were agreed on at the time of the challenge.
Almost exclusively a male team sport, it is distinguished from the others, such as field hockey or shinny, by the use of a netted racquet with which to pick the ball off the ground, throw, catch and convey it into or past a goal to score a point. The cardinal rule in all varieties of lacrosse was that the ball, with few exceptions, must not be touched with the hands.
One group of Indians that lived in the southeast which included the Cherokee, Seminole, Choctaw, among many other tribes played a game they termed A-ne-jo-di, or “Stickball” that is played with two sticks. The Modern game of lacrosse however most resembles the Iroquois version called "baggataway" “they Bump hips” or "tewaraathon” which means “The little brother of war” Even among the Iroquois speaking tribes there were variations too. The Mohawks called the game the “hon tis kwaks eks,” the Onondaga “guh jee gwah ai” – “men hit a rounded object,” and the Oneida call their version “gal ahs or Ga-lahs”
While now this game is played and enjoyed for pure entertainment, back then it was played in order to resolve conflicts and even heal those who were ill. Referred to as 'the Creator's game', lacrosse was later believed to have been created by the Almighty for entertainment.
Just like before war, players of the game would paint their bodies and decorate their sticks. These decorations were usually objects that were symbolic of the qualities that were demanded while playing the game. There were rules about what could be eaten before the game, and several rituals were performed by a medicine man (also the coach) to protect and prepare the men and their sticks for the game. A special dance was performed by the players on the night before the game, along with performing sacrifices and yelling sacred expressions.
The history of Lacrosse began among North American Indian tribes. As early as the 1400s, the Iroquois, Huron, Algonquin and other tribes were playing the game. In its beginnings lacrosse, then called baggataway, was a wide-open game that was part religious ritual and part military training.
What there is generally no debate on is that Lacrosse is the oldest sport in North America. All across North America Lacrosse was played in some form or another with the exception of the southwest.