For Native people, sports are an important part of traditional society. Athletic prowess, sportsmanship, competitiveness, and spirituality are intertwined with various sporting activities. “Ball” games were always extremely popular among Native Americans. Team sports such as Lacrosse, Shinny Ball, Double Ball, and Long Ball emphasize the importance of strength of both the body and mind and of leadership and responsibility to others.


       LACROSSE also referred to as "The Creator's Game"

Lacrosse is a game devised by Native Americans.  Which particular native nation actually invented the game is not known, but many in the northeast played it.  The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) call "Tewaarathon" or lacrosse their national game. For the Haudenosaunee, it was played to give thanks to the Creator.  In the past, a game would be played to provide additional power to the medicines being used to heal the sick. It could be played to settle disputes.  It was played to hone men’s stamina, hand-eye coordination, and teamwork.  Beginning in the 1700s, the game moved towards becoming a sport, popular not only among Iroquois, but also with European and French Canadians.  The game continues to be played by Haudenosaunee, but it has been transformed into a competitive sport.  Lacrosse today is played between Haudenosaunee communities as well as with non-native teams.

Field Lacrosse
Box Lacrosse

Lacrosse Player, 1996 alabaster by Fred Gonyea, Onondaga
"Snowsnake Game" by Towanna Miller, Mohawk   

During the long snowy winter, one game that is played for amusement is snowsnake.  The snowsnake is thrown down a long, snow packed track. The player whose stick slides the furthest wins the throw. Bets can be placed on the contestants. Teams are composed of throwers and those who make and prepare the snowsnakes. Snowsnakes are made in a variety of ways to suit the conditions of the track. Snowsnakes are made from wood and have a lead tip for balance.

Jim Sky throwing a snowsnake.

Atenaha (Seed Game)

Pronounced: ah-deh-nah-ha


Play:  One person is chosen to throw the eight dice first.

(Dice are passed in a counter-clockwise direction, unless the game is being played to honor someone who has passed on to the Spirit World.  In that case, the dice are passed clockwise.)


The player who is throwing the dice continues to throw as long as he/she is winning corn or unless he/she accidentally drops one or more of the dice when picking them up or when shaking them.  The player uses one hand to hide his/her winnings and the other hand to pick up and throw the dice.


Play continues until the pot is empty.  At that point, any player who has not won any corn is out of the game.  That is called getting “skunked”.  The game continues, but now the dice thrower gets corn from the other players instead of from the pot.


A player without corn can continue to play as long as he/she don’t owe any corn.  If a player doesn’t have enough corn to pay what is owed then his/her corn is divided evenly among the remaining players and that player is out of the game.


Corn is not collected after each throw.  Instead, the thrower tries to maintain luck by picking up and throwing the dice as quickly as possible.  Corn is only picked up after the player’s turn has ended.  (If a player threw combinations which added up to 6, then the other 3 players give 2 each.  If 10 corn kernels are won and there are 3 players, then each player gives 4 corn because giving 3 wouldn’t be enough. Since, the thrower won 12 corn rather than 10, that is called a “windfall.”


Players who are not throwing may shout “shaaaa” as the dice are being thrown to try to give bad luck to the thrower.  Shouting “kahonta” (pronounced ga hoon dah) means “to make all one color” like a field and that gives good luck to the thrower.  The game ends when one player wins all 40 corn kernels.


Purpose:  This game is played for fun, to honor someone who has passed away, or to help settle family disagreements by putting decision-making into the hands of the Creator.


Items needed:  8 two-sided wooden dice (darkened on one side, natural color on the other side), 40 corn kernels which are placed in the center of the table (the pot) at the start of the game.


Players:  Six to twenty players can play. 

Goal: Whoever wins all 40 kernels of corn wins the game.


Dice combinations:

1 white & 7 black - win 4 corn

7 white & 1 black - win 4 corn 


2 white & 6 black - win 2 corn

6 white & 2 white - win 2 corn


3 white & 5 black - turn ends

5 white & 3 white - turn ends

4 white & 4 black - turn ends


All 8 white - win 10 corn

All 8 black - win 20 corn



Tonawanda Seneca Baseball Team

Baseball became another venue for enhancing and demonstrating skill and dexterity. Native people were introduced to the game of baseball in a variety of ways.  With the arrival of Europeans to North America came the introduction of formal education and Christianity to the Native Americans. An integral part of early attempts at non-Native education and religious conversion of Natives was the playing of sports such as baseball. Well known Apache warrior Geronimo played baseball while imprisoned at Fort Sill.

click here for video on Native Americans in Baseball

For many Native American children, exposure to baseball came with their relocation to off-reservation government boarding schools.  For non-Native administrators of boarding schools baseball demonstrated the success of their assimilationist techniques, but for Native children success in baseball became a source of community and personal pride and freedom from the boarding school regime. The first federal boarding school was opened in Carlisle, PA in 1879.  More than 100,000 Native children attended the 500 boarding schools that followed the opening of Carlisle.  By the 1930s many of the schools were closed, but a number were still maintained by missionaries and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 
Akwesasne "Red Tops" Women's Team

     Louis Bruce, Sr., Mohawk
Community baseball was very popular in Native American communities. Most Iroquois communities fielded teams that would travel to other Iroquois communities in New York and Canada or play non-Native teams in surrounding towns. At times, non-Native players would join Native teams.  The level of play of these community teams would be on par with today’s semi-professional teams. At Six Nations Reserve in Ontario each of the Longhouses had a baseball diamond. Former Carlisle Boarding School student, Jake Jimeson, returned home to the Seneca Community in western New York to build baseball fields and organize his own team. Jake also helped train two of his sons, Earl & Elliott for professional baseball in the Eastern League in the 1920s. In Oneida, Wisconsin in the 1920s, tavern owner Mark Powless managed and was part owner of a baseball team that competed against semi-pro state teams. His team included a number of ex-big league players. William Metoxen, Oneida, relates a story from his childhood of visiting relatives in Kansas. They attended a picnic where they watched a baseball game between a traveling Negro team and the local ball team of Circleville, Kansas. At Onondaga the Lacrosse players would play for the baseball team when the Lacrosse season ended.  
Do You Want to Know More? Click Here To See A Book List!