This is beginning to become painful to speak about, sometimes even harder to type. Please read Sports Illustrated’s article about the Iroquois being rejected at the gate.
For the Iroquois, the only Native Americans who compete internationally as a sovereign people, lacrosse is more than a sport. It’s a centerpiece of their centuries-old culture and a way to honor the Creator.
The wood is alive, they say. Yes, a good stick talks to you when it’s finished and agleam: begging to be picked up and cradled, demanding that you rake the nearest ball into the cow-gut webbing that with time becomes so sensitive, so responsive, that it can feel as if you’re carrying an egg in the palm of your hand. But Alf E. Jacques can hear the wood long before that, when what will become a lacrosse stick still resembles a shepherd’s crook, and the drilling and sanding and shellacking are yet to be done. This one? He can all but feel it breathe beneath his blade.
But then, Jacques expected as much. A master stickmaker whose workshop squats behind his mother’s house on the Onondaga reservation, just outside Syracuse, N.Y., he selected, steamed, bent and began air-drying a prime batch of hickory poles 28 months ago. Usually a year is long enough to make a good lacrosse stick, but Jacques was taking no chances; he wanted these poles cured to perfection for this mid-June afternoon, when he would sit at his cooper’s bench, take a draw-shave in hand and begin shaping the six-foot defensive sticks for the competition to come.
“This is for the Iroquois Nationals,” the 61-year-old Jacques says. “Nobody else gets one. Every four years I make at least six D-sticks for them.” He laughs. “And they usually save them for when they play the Americans.”