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Lacrosse in Canada - A Film by Peter Prestel

A long-house sheathed in bark. Since time immemorial the Hurons have lived in dwellings like these. Then, one day, strangers arrived, intruders from another world.
The news spread from camp fire to camp fire.

"Black-skirts" is the name they gave to the men coming across the Great Lakes in their boats to disrupt the ordered lives of the native Indians.

Part of the old "order" in the Huron villages is a game bestowed on them as a gift by the Great Maker and held in reverence ever since.

Squatting round the camp fire the native Canadians tell of a Black-skirt with "hair on his face". This man has a very odd message for them.

From now on they are to pray to his God and forget their game. It is a sin to play this game , the stranger says.

300 years later. The game is still alive - And very much so.

Now it's the white intruders who are craziest about it. They call it: Lacrosse. The idea is to use a kind of racket to catch and pass a small rubber ball and to get it into the opponent's goal. The worst foul is to touch the ball with your hands.

Today, Lacrosse is so popular in Canada that it has found its way into the big ice-hockey stadiums like the legendary Maple Leaf Garden arena. There's even a professional Lacrosse league. The president of the Toronto Rock team is confident that Lacrosse will have a big future:

O-Ton Bill Waters
People know what "The Rock" is - itŽs the team that represents Toronto and one of the most exciting games in the world

O-Ton Bill Waters
- we not only had success in the building as far as people are concerned but also on the floor - we won the national lacrosse champion chip

O-Ton Bill Waters
- they play our national game Lacrosse which is probably as an exciting game you will see on television as in an enclosed arena as a hockey rink - it is a very entertaining game and we feel very excited about his future here

This is another "arena" with a golden future ahead of it. The decoration on the outside indicates that it stands on Indian territory. But the packaging is deceptive. This is no museum or culture centre - it's a gambling casino. It's designed to put money in the coffers of the reservation and to create jobs. Which is why the Canadian government has granted the descendants of the original Indian tribes the license to organize "games of chance".

Every year four million gambling palefaces throng round the one-arm bandits... Cynics call the place the natives' belated revenge on the white man.

Over 3,000 people work at the Casino Rama, many of them are of Indian descent. Security guard Chris Walser is a member of the Ojibwa people.

Chris was one of the best Lacrosse players in all Ontario... And he means to get back into the big time.

O-Ton Chris Walser
Well, when I was in my prime in my Lacrosse playing days the Pro League was not yet even in my dreams - if there was a Pro League I would have continued playing on into that division but a few years later, I think it was since eight years now I played organized Lacrosse, and now that it is here I wanna take a shot at it and say : Well I did it and still can do it.

Chris spends hours practising with the little rubber ball, just like he did when he was young. A sharp eye and a good aim are the essential assets for being a crack in the fast native game.

O-Ton Chris Walser
The term "Lacrosse" is not what the native people call it; we call it "Bagadaway" in the Ojibwa language, which means: Little brother of war and it was called this not only because it was a brutal sport but it was used to train young warriors to get them into battle ready conditions.

On fine weekends Chris takes his family out for a paddle on one of Ontario's countless lakes. This is the landscape where the game they call the "little brother of war" first saw the light of day.

Toronto. The thriving metropolis on Lake Ontario is the capital of the province named after it, a centre of banking, culture and commerce. The gleaming skyscrapers of downtown Toronto symbolize the fabulous success story of the white immigrants.

For a long time the big arenas devoted to the Canadian national sport, ice hockey, were only used in the winter. Until someone hit on the idea of bringing Lacrosse indoors. Today, "Box Lacrosse" is a real trend sport and these four have it down to a fine art. With their astounding stick wizardry Gavin Prout and the other cracks in the team have shot the Whitby Warriors right to the top of the Canadian league.

O-Ton Gavin Prout
I place my skill on speed and quickness a little bit more then the other players. As you tell I'm not a very big guy - so in order to excel Lacrosse a little bit you have to use your best assets and to me it's speed skill like you use a little bit of head game. I can read the floor a little bit more easier than some other players because I've been playing for quite a long time.

Gavin and his team are one day away from a decisive match, the finals of the Junior A Championship. Training prepares them for what their opponents will throw at them. As so often, those opponents are from the Six Nations reservation. The natives are feared for their outstanding stick technique.

The trainer gives them a final pep talk. He knows that games are also won in the mind. So his aim is to give the players confidence in their own abilities. They've chosen one of the fastest and toughest team games in the world and now they have to go through with it.

Gavin Prout is mad about Lacrosse. The game fascinated him right from early childhood.

O-Ton Gavin Prout
The white folk, more or less, you know, we pick and choose our games, some like baseball, some like Soccer, you know, some like Lacrosse. Where as in the Natives you'll find pretty much everybody will relay Lacrosse, because it was their game they brought up, their native game in general.

The Six Nations reservation. This is the home of the Arrows. The Lacrosse team is the pride of the 20,000 inhabitants stemming from the "Six Nations" - the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora.

Delby Powless is the goal-getter in the team. Whenever he has a minute to himself, he's out there with the Lacrosse stick. It's a family tradition. The Powless are a real Lacrosse dynasty. For generations they've provided the top players in the Arrows team.

O-Ton Delby Powless
Round here if you got family that plays Lacrosse it is almost normal that you gonna play too. My first hero and still my hero is my Dad; he has always been my favorite Lacrosse player and pretty much what I have learned in the game is from him.

An engineering office on the reservation. Many of the Arrows players have a job here. Inevitably, their boss himself is a Lacrosse hero. But along with the old game he thinks of the future prospects of his employees. So computer literacy is at a premium.

Much has changed in the lives of the native Canadians up here in the North. Only their games have stayed the same. And the most important of those games has always been the one given to them by the Great Maker.

The rivers, lakes and woods once supplied the people here with all they needed: water, wood, meat - and furs. It was the fur trade that lured the white men into these forests in the first place.

After the hunters came the missionaries - the "black-skirts". It is from them that we have the first detailed descriptions of the lives of the original inhabitants and of the game of Lacrosse.

One Jesuit reported enthusiastically that even the local shaman had accepted the cross. His disappointment was doubly acute when he later observed him hanging little Lacrosse rackets on it. The natives believed in the healing powers of "their" game. After years of missionary work the "sacred game" was still more important to the Indians than the new faith.

After this setback, the palefaces decided, some time in the 19th century, that the best motto was "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" The first games "caps" against "headdresses" were clearly won by the natives.

Initially, natives and newcomers fielded joint teams wielding the crooked racket which reminded the French of a bishop's staff. Hence the name "Lacrosse".

And because the white man can't really play without written rules, a long list of regulations was put together and Lacrosse was summarily declared to be Canada's national sport.
The motto behind the establishment of the Lacrosse Association was: 'Our country and our game'. The smart sportsmen in their newly founded clubs conveniently forgot that the country really belonged to the natives and the game was their invention. The only "good Injun" was an "Injun" good at Lacrosse and the white teams were only too happy to avail themselves of their expertise.

But even that didn't last. In 1880 the one native player still left was excluded from organized Lacrosse, for the official reason that he lost amateur status.

In 1908 only white players were allowed to represent Canada at the Olympic Games.

Cayuga Indian Kevin Sandy has set down his own view of Lacrosse history in Canada and committed it to a CD ROM. He has lost none of his indignation at white officialdom who banned his people from the game just because they were better at it.

Kevin Sandy travels to the furthest corners of what used to be Indian territory in an attempt to give Lacrosse back to the people who invented it.
He organizes championships and training camps for young players in the reservations, establishes contacts with Lacrosse enthusiasts elsewhere, drums up sponsorships for the teams and keeps the media informed of his activities. In the interests of his own people, Kevin Sandy is out to market the sport and everything it stands for; at the same time he is concerned to rekindle their interest in this old native game.

O-Ton Kevin Sandy
We have a lot to offer the world in terms of the knowledge and the growth and I guess in terms of... I guess in trade that we are doing with different cultures as well and that is something I wanted to be able to do - is to expand upon that and grow oil company so we can grow selfsufficiently and create employment and opportunity for our people

Kevin has invited Delby Powless for a photo session. One example of his plans to achieve economic independence is the marketing of Lacrosse clothing. The clever Indian activist naturally engages stars from the reservations as advertising models. It creates identification and also gives additional income for the young players.

The store on the reservation is only one of the young entrepreneur's sales outlets. Most of the business is done via the internet. Kevin's bang-up-to-date marketing approach also serves to sell a very traditional Lacrosse product: the wooden stick.

There are not many craftsmen left who have mastered the fine art of making a Lacrosse stick. Toby Williams is one of them. It was his grandfather who taught him the right way to handle hickory wood.

The crucial moment: bending the stick.

O-Ton Toby Williams
This just don't come over night to make these things. You need a lot of patience - some people don't have the patience. My own son don't have the patience - at this time it is like that, to make one because he want to take a piece of wood and have it look like this - so does he starts work and that's not possible.

Making a good crosse can take anything up to a year. And it's all done by hand. So it's hardly surprising that no more than 100 Lacrosse sticks leave his workshop every year. But Toby Williams doesn't keep count. "That's unimportant," he says laconically.

But for Kevin Sandy it's anything but unimportant. He could easily sell far more Lacrosse sticks than the few workshops making them are able to turn out. The market for the stick which, perfectly made becomes the player's extended arm, is booming again after it looked as if it had gone out of fashion for good. Lightweight plastic and titanium looked all set to oust their wooden predecessors. Toby has vivid memories of the first time he saw someone use a plastic Lacrosse stick:

O-Ton Toby Williams
I remember when we were playing - I forgot what year it was - but one guy came up out with a plastic stick and everybody laughed at him and he'd shoot the ball - heŽs got up in the air and looped the air like that and the guys were laughing at him

Press conference prior to the final between the all-white Whitby Warriors and the Arrows from the Six Nations reservation. Encounters between palefaces and native teams have an excitement all their own. It's not just the shiny trophy but there's always the element of revenge for the incursions of the past. For Gavin Prout and his friends it's their personal prospects for the future that are at stake.

On the way to Toronto for the big game the players try their best to wind down a little. They know that talent scouts from the big United States colleges will be watching them. A good showing could mean a scholarship to study in America free of charge.

And that could send their career prospects rocketing skywards as fast as one of the high-speed elevators in the CN Tower, at 553 meters the tallest building in the world.

Higher, bigger, richer. The world of the white man. And sport is one of the ways of getting your foot in the door.

The Six Nations reservation. Its infrastructure could hardly be better - schools, a hospital and an old people's home.

Delby's grandfather lives here. He was a famous goalkeeper in the thirties and even made it into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He has given his grandson many invaluable tips. Delby goes to see him on the eve of the final and asks him whether he was ever scared before a big match.

O-Ton Punch Garlow
Oh yeah, I've been hurt a lot. But you know, when you're goaly and one ball hits you I says, you know, it don't hurt, you know, but when I tell you, it don't hurt you'll believe me and it honestly don't hurt as bad as it does, see? When I used to kept that ball, when Kenny was small I stood him against the wall, he had his pads on and that ball I threw - only there...and I says, does that hurt and he says no, that don't hurt. I threw it a little harder up here and I says, does that hurt, he says no. That is as hard as one had played ... I says, it don't hurt - stay as this - but it does. It does sometimes. Well in my time, you know, I had hardly any pads on and all the time I come up they used to call me, what's that animal called that's all over black and white...?.

O-Ton Bill Waters
A Lacrosse player is a wonderful athlete. He combines the VO2 capacity, the ability to run for a long time and along with the strength and the willingness to play the game in a tough fashion. They are great athletes and you canŽt be a "shrinking violet", as we say here, and play Lacrosse. You have to be tough.

O-Ton Gavin Prout
It's such a rough game if you take a look at it, I think it's more rougher then quite... few the games, you guys have witnessed in order to stick with it and go through your neck injuries... and still love the game. It's really tough to do it so most definitely it takes a special breed. We might say, we are a little bit more crazy than the rest. You know, it's just the way that people have been brought up in our days.

O-Ton Delby Powless
Non Native team and Native team ... , it always seems that the Native team is a lot smaller. Maybe we are just a little bit more skilled, you know, but we have to use our skill because we are not very big.

Delby in action. The final against the "giants" in white has already started.

Gavin, the Number 9, in front of goal for the first time and it's first blood for the Warriors.

Galvanised into action, the boys from the reservation rally for the counter-attack. Delby spurs his team on. From now on it's a fight to the finish.

Trent Hill bulldozes his way in from the right wing and equalises. Gavin knows that he and his Warriors are going to have their work cut out.

Gavin goes it alone. An elegant body-swerve and he's through.

After the goal and the collision with the goalkeeper tempers are frayed on the Arrows side.

Delby is back on the field. The Warriors are penned in, fighting a desperate rearguard action. Then the spectators are treated to a Delby specialty.

He sends the ball whizzing into the net and equalises for the Arrows. Superb technique, the native Canadians' major asset.

The assets of the Warriors: speed, strength, fitness. And finally they decide the outcome.

After a solo run down half the length of the field Steve Voitak scores the winning goal. The Whitby Warriors are Lacrosse champions. For Gavin and his friends it's a dream come true.

Victory and defeat, the age-old laws of sport. Back in the old days it sometimes took days before a game was won or lost. And it was by no means unusual for the "little brother of war" to end with the death of one of the players.

Today the outcome is less dramatic. Gavin can look forward to a scholarship for an American college and Delby will have to wait a while to embark on his professional career.

A journey back through time, to a world of magic. In a Huron village a child is seriously ill. The shaman's herbal remedies have had no effect, the mother is in despair. There's only one way out: a ritual game of Lacrosse to cure the child.

The warriors cleanse themselves and their sticks in the smoke. The preparation stage is a spiritual act.

The goals are decked out with feathers and some of the players tie the plumage of birds of prey into their hair, believing that this will enable them to see the ball with an "eagle eye".

Lacrosse, the game of the native Canadians, a gift from the Great Maker.

O-Ton Kevin Sandy
I believe that it was a game that was only made for the native people. Then it was our gift to the world - for other cultures and other nations adopted it.

O-Ton Toby Williams
Everybody has played since they can walk. There are some people buy sticks for their baby boys that not even born.

O-Ton Chris Walser
It is our game. So there is a lot of pride and a lot of respect for our game. So we take it - we take it the heart we have, we have that pride ourselves.

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