Haudenosaunee Nationals prepare to compete at 1st women's box lacrosse world championships

The Haudenosaunee Nationals women's team ranks eighth in the world in field lacrosse. The upcoming first-ever championships will determine where they rank in box lacrosse.   (Submitted By Fawn Porter - image credit)
The Haudenosaunee Nationals women's team ranks eighth in the world in field lacrosse. The upcoming first-ever championships will determine where they rank in box lacrosse. (Submitted By Fawn Porter - image credit)

Katsitiarase (Joni) Squire-Hill says when she was a young girl, she had to sneak out to play lacrosse because it wasn't yet sanctioned by Haudenosaunee clanmothers in her community of Six Nations of the Grand River, near Hamilton.

Now in her 30s and a mother of three, the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) athlete will be among the 26 women representing the Haudenosaunee Confederacy at the first-ever World Lacrosse Women's Box Championship. The championship takes place Sept. 20-29 in Utica, N.Y.

Squire-Hill said the pressure is on after they lost their first match against Team Canada 18-5 earlier this month.

"We have less than 100 days left to go and we've seen how it was against Team Canada and we have to really push ourselves to be at their level of speed," she said.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals is made up of athletes from the Kanien'kehá:ka, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations. The team is a member of World Lacrosse — an international governing body of lacrosse — and competes at the global level.

The roaster who will represent the Haudenosaunee Confederacy at the first-ever World Lacrosse Women’s Box Championship in Utica, N.Y.
The roaster who will represent the Haudenosaunee Confederacy at the first-ever World Lacrosse Women’s Box Championship in Utica, N.Y.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals team roster for the first-ever World Lacrosse Women’s Box Championship in Utica, N.Y. (Haudenosaunee Nationals/Facebook)

Traditionally only a men's sport, women's lacrosse is not sanctioned in all Haudenosaunee communities. Box lacrosse differs from field lacrosse in that it's typically played indoors on converted rinks.

"I didn't start till I was 13, actually, because I wasn't really allowed to play lacrosse," said Squire-Hill.

"My dad, he just didn't really think that I should, and my mom, she still is on board like thinking I shouldn't play lacrosse, but she just accepts me doing what I want to do."

At her age, she said, she'll have to put in the work to keep up with her younger teammates. The next few months will be dedicated to physical and mental conditioning.

Squire-Hill is appreciative of making the roster because it was so competitive — around 120 women registered for the initial tryouts nine months ago.

Jeff Powless, who is Kanien'kehá:ka from Akwesasne, on the Ontario, Quebec and New York state border, is the team's general manager. He said he is focused on building the team's camaraderie and their skills until the championships with specialized coaching.

He said he feels the pressure to develop the players' highest potential.

"We have progressed over the past nine months. I've seen tremendous improvement," he said.

"I gotta put this team in the best position possible."

'Little brother of war'

The team includes Indigenous players from outside of Haudenosaunee communities.

Mekwan Tulpin is Cree from Fort Albany First Nation in Treaty 9 territory in northern Ontario.

"As one of the few 'import' players, it's truly an honour to have been selected to represent the rest of Turtle Island alongside these Onkwehón:we women," Tulpin said.

Fawn Porter, who is Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River, has played for the Haudenosaunee Nationals for about three years, but was unsure if she'd make this team.

"I was kind of like nervous and freaking out," she said.

"When I finally heard it, it was like a big sigh of relief and like being excited. But then I was like, OK, now the grind starts."

Although lacrosse is sanctioned in her community, Porter said she also received some backlash for playing lacrosse growing up. The rules for women's box lacrosse are no different from the men's.

Fawn Porter, Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River, Ont., has been playing for the Haudenosaunee Nationals women’s team for three years.
Fawn Porter, Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River, Ont., has been playing for the Haudenosaunee Nationals women’s team for three years.

Fawn Porter has been playing for the Haudenosaunee Nationals women’s team for three years. (Submitted by Fawn Porter)

"Sports can be brutal, but like to play a game that was once called 'little brother of war' ... it's empowering," Porter said.

Lacrosse has been referred to as the "little brother of war" because it was used to settle disputes between First Nations.

Porter said she's excited to play against teams from Japan, Germany, England and Australia, where it is a new sport.

"Everyone else is just picking this up now," she said.