To some, lacrosse is just a game that is fun to play and watch. For the Haudenosaunee people it is so much more than that. It is a way of life. It is a form of medicine. It is an outlet for expression. It is bond for families and communities. It is an avenue for recognition and honor.
From One Bowl Productions and XLrator Media, the new film Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation uncovers not only the impact the game of lacrosse has had on generations of Native American communities, but also the arduous campaign for recognition of the Haudenosaunee people. We were given the great opportunity to view the film before its official release on May 26th, 2017 as well as some time to talk with one of the featured figures in the film, Jeremy Thompson.
Off the bat, Jeremy expressed that their lifelong relationship with the producers has culminated in a film that truly captures the story of the Iroquois Nationals as well as the fight for recognition and rights that Haudenosaunee people have endured for generations which continues into today. After watching the film and catching up with Jeremy, three narratives stood out – the past, the now and the future.
Lacrosse has been played on American soil for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the mid-80’s when the Iroquois Nationals were recognized as the 5th member nation of the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL), qualified to compete on the international stage. The legendary Oren Lyons was a major driving force for the inception of Nationals team and Jeremy couldn’t think of a better figure to lead the sport forward. “Oren was an exceptional player and goalie at Syracuse and he had a vision” exclaimed Jeremy noting that he always lead by example.
This vision for the Iroquois Nationals team, the only Native American team that is sanctioned to compete as its own country in international competition, was grounded in the strong desire to bring recognition to the Haudenosaunee people. Through every game and tournament, even in 2010 when the team was barred from competing in the FIL World Championships in Manchester, England that desire to represent their culture and their people never wavered. Even without a win in the record books for that 2010 FIL tournament, Jeremy whole-heartedly believes it was “absolutely a big win” for the Iroquois Nationals to make a stand to show pride in their heritage and push for recognition as a Nation.
While this film covers a tremendous amount of history, an overarching feeling expressed by many of the athletes featured in movie and in our conversation with Jeremy was the importance of focusing on the present. Through all of the hardships experienced as a people and as a team, you must “look at what’s next, what’s the next opportunity” stated Jeremy. Through gaining a college education and his dedication to the game, more opportunities have presented themselves to Jeremy and his brothers most notably through their participation in the MLL and NLL as well as their Nike endorsement.
Having played in the 2014 FIL World Championships and the 2015 WILC tournament, Jeremy and the Iroquois Nationals ended both competitions with a Bronze and Silver medal respectively so their focus is set on the opportunity to come home with the Gold in 2018. In the same respect, the leadership of the Haudenosaunee people are continuously looking for their next opportunity to gain recognition on the world stage and fight for the rights of their people.
In Jeremy’s eyes, there is only one direction for the sport of lacrosse – up and onward. Now with over 50 nations registered as members of the FIL, new programs are starting to make an impact on the game. New teams like “Jamaica have so much momentum” explaining that “their work ethic and their athleticism” will bring them success in the world ranks. Jeremy also mentioned how the rise of the Japanese and Israeli teams has been a huge source of inspiration for the growth of the game and for bringing recognition to cultures normally not associated with lacrosse. It was recently announced that the 2018 Men’s FIL World Championships will be held in Netanya, Israel for which has drawn a great deal of excitement among the Iroquois Nationals team. In 2018 they know they will not face any road blocks with their Haudenosaunee Passports as they have already been accepted in Israel allowing them to focus on their path to winning their first gold medal.
In looking back at the time put into making the film, Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation, and now looking forward to its release, Jeremy hopes that the lacrosse community around the world will walk away with a better understanding of who the Haudenosaunee people and what they are fighting for. We share his sentiment that this film portrays lacrosse as a source of entertainment for fans but also a platform to stand up for what you believe in.
Whether you are a lacrosse fan or not, we would highly recommend you watch Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation when it releases May 26th in select theaters and on-demand on iTunes June 20th. Big thanks to KWPR, One Bowl Productions and XLrator Media for allowing us to enjoy this great film. And of course a big thanks for Jeremy Thompson for taking the time to speak with us. Don’t miss your chance to catch Jeremy and his brothers compete for the 2017 NLL Championship when the Saskatchewan Rush and Georgia Swarm face off in June.