DENVER (AP) — The only indigenous team competing internationally as a sovereign nation is in Colorado for the World Lacrosse Championships.
However, it's more than a game for the 27-man Iroquois Nationals.
"It's our way of life. It's deep in our culture. In our cradle board, we are given a wooden lacrosse stick. We grew up playing since we've been walking," Jeremy Thompson, 27, told The Denver Post (http://dpo.st/1q3NgbA).
The Nationals will compete against the world's top players from Australia, Canada, England, Japan and the U.S. in the top tier of the nine-day competition played every four years.
For the Iroquois — six nations representing the indigenous people who once roamed New York, Quebec and Ontario — it's a sacred game.
Thompson, a former Syracuse University player from the Onondaga Nation, led the way for his three brothers and cousin, who are also on the team.
The games, which began Thursday night, is expected to draw 100,000 spectators to Dick's Sporting Goods Park in the Denver suburb of Commerce City through July 19, with 38 nations competing in 142 games. The Iroquois Nationals play England on Friday.
In 2010, England refused to acknowledge Iroquois passports, and the team couldn't compete at the World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester.
The team fell in international rankings and the Federation of International Lacrosse would not allow them to compete in the top-flight blue division against powerhouses like Canada and the U.S.
The team successfully appealed the ruling to regain blue division access in the 2014 championships.
Gewas Schindler was captain in 2010 and still feels the pain of the past. But since becoming the team's general manager in 2011, he said he has channeled his anger into positive energy.
"It's something we are putting behind us," said Schindler, who has built a team that he hopes is capable of toppling countries that recruit from populations several thousand times larger than the roughly 70,000-strong Iroquois Nation.
Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com