Haudenosaunee Women Fighting to Change Societal Norms

This article appears in the November edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, available exclusively to US Lacrosse members. Join or renew today! Thank you for your support.

The women of the Haudenosaunee Nation are fighting not only for a spot on the world stage. They’re fighting to change the perception of women in their communities.

Despite being a matriarchal society in which a child’s clan is passed down through the mother, the Haudenosaunee elders were reluctant to allow women to play lacrosse. That mentality is slowly dissolving. 

“Over time, I’ve seen a change in attitude amongst a lot of people,” said Kathy Smith, chair of the Haudenosaunee Nationals Women’s Lacrosse Board. “People now have daughters and granddaughters playing, and they’re able to see the opportunities to go to college to play, and to travel and play in international competitions.”

When the International World Games Association and World Lacrosse worked together to make it possible for the Iroquois Nationals (men) to play in The World Games in 2022 — overturning the initial ruling that they did not meet the eligibility criteria as defined by the Olympic Charter — the news was met with excitement and pride throughout the lacrosse community. More than 50,000 people had signed an online petition calling for their inclusion.

Because the men’s team finished third in the 2018 world championship, it sealed its spot in Birmingham, Ala. The Haudenosaunee women, however, still have work to do. They must finish in the top eight at next year’s world championship to earn their spot in the biggest international event featuring lacrosse since the sport appeared in the Olympics in 1948.

Smith, who played box lacrosse as a young Mohawk girl but never had the chance to represent her community, understands the importance of the opportunity. The Haudenosaunee women could not make the trip to the 2015 U19 world championship in Scotland because their passports were not accepted by the United Kingdom. Many players skipped the 2017 world championship for fear of the same fate. The shorthanded Haudenosaunee finished 12th, a setback after their seventh-place showing in 2013.

With a good result in 2021, the Haudenosaunee will have their best chance to showcase that they can play at a high level, as well.

“We are born into a society that says women are less than men,” Smith said. “For me, it’s helping our women understand that that’s not true. Just because everyone around us believes that doesn’t mean we have to believe that. It’s about empowering them to be all they can be and do what they want to do. We don’t need to be limited by societal norms or values or beliefs.”

The Haudenosaunee roster is poised to have more than a few college players in 2021. In their fourth appearance at the world championship, the Nationals have more talent than ever before. They won the Pan-American Lacrosse Association qualifying tournament last year, defeating Puerto Rico 16-6 in the final.

With returners like Katy Smith (Kathy’s daughter) and Mimi and Jacelyn Lazore, and a core of players competing in their second world championship, the Haudenosaunee believe they have the deepest team in their history. The wealth of talent among the Haudenosaunee women, aiding by more girls picking up sticks, continues to rise.

With a squad featuring players at an equal talent level, Smith believes the national team can stay in touch with Haudenosaunee values of collaboration, equality and preserving a good mind.

The Nationals hope to contend for a spot in the top eight next summer. If they accomplish that goal, it will serve as another milestone in the decades of progress women have made in the Native community.

Smith hopes to carry that momentum by continuing to work toward a merger between the Haudenosaunee and Iroquois Nationals Board of Directors. Together, the two entities can advance the game of lacrosse throughout the community.

“I see that as an opportunity for all of us to get better,” Smith said.

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