A Special Moment: Haudenosaunee Spread Message at The World Games

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Aaron Cahill and Jeremy Thompson embraced. Both wore ear-to-ear smiles. Thompson and the Haudenosaunee were readying for Group B play in The World Games. Cahill and Ireland were not.

That’s because the Haudenosaunee likely would not have been there without Ireland’s selflessness.

Once the International World Games Association deemed that the Haudenosaunee could compete as their own nation in Birmingham during the world’s first large-scale Sixes tournament, Ireland vacated its position as the final team in the field.

The Haudenosaunee were ranked third in the world. Ireland was No. 12.

“From the beginning, it’s always been if you’re going to have a lacrosse event, you need to have the Haudenosaunee,” Cahill, the assistant of the Ireland men’s team, said Saturday after the Haudenosaunee’s 16-12 win over Israel. “It’s respect. It’s unity. It comes down to the fundamentals of the sport.”

Cody Jamieson didn’t expect to see a small contingent from Ireland at The World Games. The nations’ support for one another dates back to the 19th century, when the Choctaw — who were trying to recover from Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 — donated money to the Irish during the potato famine.

“Maybe we got a little emotional because we didn’t expect the Ireland lacrosse guys to be here, so that was special for us to see,” Jamieson said. “We shook their hands and said Niawen'kó:wa — ‘thank you’ — for being a part of getting us here.”

“If you’re going to have a lacrosse event, you need to have the Haudenosaunee.”

— Aaron Cahill

OVER 100 NATIONS TOOK PART IN THE OPENING CEREMONY, and the Haudenosaunee was one of them.

Draped in purple while marching onto the Protective Stadium field to the music of a full orchestra, the Haudenosaunee flew the flag of “Every Child Matters” — a movement meant to spread awareness about atrocities against native children in boarding schools across North America.

Haudenosaunee head coach Pete Milliman said he was asked more than once about who they were. It led to education. It also led to raw emotions.

“Waiting in line, it felt like any other games,” Jamieson said. “But when we walked into the big stadium, seeing all the flags and all the different countries, being included and being a part of it, seeing our flag right there beside the other countries, that was a special moment.

“We’re a sovereign nation. That’s the way we view ourselves. We don’t view ourselves as necessarily Canadian or American. We’re our own people.”

Jamieson called the initial exclusion of the Haudenosaunee from The World Games a “slap in the face.”

Even though they were ranked No. 3 in the world, the Haudenosaunee were not extended an invitation to Birmingham — considered the birthplace of Civil Rights in the United States — because the Nationals were not considered their own sovereign nation under Olympic guidelines, which The World Games were following. The originators of lacrosse then received the full weight of the lacrosse world’s support, as a petition calling for their inclusion received more than 55,000 signatures.

The International World Games Association, The World Games 2022 Birmingham Organizing Committee and World Lacrosse issued a joint press release in September 2020 announcing the decision to reverse course and extend an invite to the Nationals.

Ireland’s voluntary withdrawal helped pave the way for their inclusion.

“It’s humbling, in a sense,” said Canada head coach Brodie Merrill. “Everybody who cares about the game and knows the history of the game, there’s a lot of pride there. We’re playing their game. Being here at The World Games, it wouldn’t have been the same without them.”

The Haudenosaunee went 1-2 in Group B play at The World Games over the weekend as stars Lyle Thompson and Randy Staats were late scratches from the roster. The Nationals play for fifth place against Australia on Monday.


Jeremy Thompson and Aaron Cahill embrace on the field at The World Games.


There’s certainly still more to be done, but Thompson thinks lacrosse is moving in the right direction. Even as the world at large suffers from political divides, lacrosse can unite, Thompson said.

“You talk about energy, you talk about life, you talk about opportunity — when it comes down to the basic needs of human beings, everyone wants to be accepted,” he said Friday. “When you narrow it down, it’s that power of dominance. People trying to identify what real power is. Real power doesn’t come from the human race; it comes from something bigger than that. That’s what we believe as people. You look all around us, that’s power.”

That yearning for acceptance extends to the Haudenosaunee women’s team, which finished in eighth place in the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship in Towson, Md., on Saturday. Miya Scanlan and Wynter Jocks earned national recognition with viral goals. The team upset fifth-seeded Scotland as the No. 12 seed.

Just as the full weight of the lacrosse world supported the Haudenosaunee men, the Haudenosaunee women became a fan favorite.

Thompson thinks it’s their time now, too.

“As far as a society, a matriarchal society, we hold our women very high,” he said. “But there’s something to that where we have to start giving them the opportunity to shine. Because of the way history was written, men were more dominant. But that’s changing. Our women deserve that because of that power.”

Lacrosse is much more than a sport to the Haudenosaunee Nationals. It’s a matter of pride, culture, family and healing.

“I feel honored every time I get to represent my people and my community,” Thompson said. “When it comes to this game, I feel like we are making progress. Every time we step on the field and represent our country, it’s much bigger than that. I feel at the end of the day, you have to take what’s given to you and educate yourself and prosper.”

Said Jamieson: “We’re just carrying on the tradition as the bearers of it. Lacrosse is a very respectful game.”