Dewa’áo’:gajíhgwa’e’ is the Cayuga Nation word for lacrosse, which has multiple meanings: “they play with webbed sticks” and “to throw or pass the ball” and “hitting their hips.
Lacrosse was gifted to the Haudenosaunee Peoples (Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca) from the Creator at the time of Creation. Other Indigenous Nations have their own Creation stories, as well as different stories about how the game of lacrosse came to be. Today, many variations of the game are played across Nations.
In the Haudenosaunee Creation story, there was a place that lived above the clouds called Sky World. This land looked very much like our own, where plants, trees and people lived. The Chief of Sky World took care of the Tree of Light. Sky Chief and his wife, Sky Woman, were expecting a child.
Sky Woman was curious about the herbs that grew beneath the Tree of Light. Noticing a hole under the roots of the tree, she leaned in to look closer and fell through, towards the vast waters below. The Geese saw Sky Woman falling and they flew up to catch her. The Geese placed Sky Woman upon the Great Turtle’s back.
Sky Woman had the power to create land. She asked the animals if there was dirt. “Yes,” they said, “but far beneath the waters.” So the Beaver, the Otter and the Muskrat dived into the water to retrieve some earth for Sky Woman. At last, the Muskrat’s body surfaced with dirt clutched in his paw. Sky Woman made circular motions on the Turtle’s back with the dirt and began to dance. As she danced, the earth grew. This is how North America became known as Turtle Island.
Sky Woman gave birth to a baby girl. Her daughter grew, came of age, and mysteriously became pregnant with twins. They fought furiously in her womb. The Creator – called the Good Minded twin – was born. His brother – the Bad Minded twin – left their mother’s body through her armpit, killing her. The mother was buried into the earth, which is why earth is called Mother Earth.
Sky Woman raised the twins and taught them the traditions of Sky World. One way to settle disputes was to play the game of Dewa’áo’:gajíhgwa’e’ (lacrosse). The twins competed to see who would “win the world.” They played for six days. The Bad Minded twin grew impatient and he tried to end his brother with a spear. The Creator (the Good Minded twin) subdued his brother with a deer’s antler.
The Creator said that fighting is not the way of the Good Mind. He said that lacrosse would be the way to settle all disputes. He very much enjoyed the sport and hoped the Peoples would play for his entertainment.