The documentary Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation showcases the sport of lacrosse and the Native American Iroquois Nationals team as they advanced to the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (WILC) games held in the Onondaga Nation.
The historic 2015 games were the first time the WILC games were hosted by a Native American nation. The Iroquois Nationals competed against 12 teams leading up to a fierce final last-round match against rival Team Canada.
In partnership with the Haudenosaunee, One Bowl Productions illustrates the spiritual connection to what Native players call Tewaaraton, or the Creator’s game. Directors Peter Baxtor and Academy Award-nominee Peter Spirer use personalized vignettes and commentary from several players, including executive producer Oren Lyons and the Iroquois (Onondaga) professional lacrosse players the Thompson brothers.
Viewpoints from the athletes provide a snapshot of the history of lacrosse, the sacrifices made by the players and families, and the cultural importance of the game. Moviegoers will get a sense of the strenuous and energetic play that continues to draw in more fans each year, making lacrosse one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S.
Lyle Thompson (Onondaga) spoke with ICMN about the new film. “[We are] representing the Iroquois people and by doing that at the world stage, we’re representing all Native American people… I want to be an influence on the next generation and the way I’m doing it is through the game of lacrosse.”
“This movie will show who we are as Iroquois people,” said pro lacrosse player Miles Thompson (Onondaga) to ICMN. “[The filmmakers] followed us through the world games, both indoor and outdoor. It will show people that we are still here, we are still a sovereign nation, and people will be able to learn about the original game of lacrosse and where the game came from.”
The Iroquois Nationals are respected for their distinctive team dynamics. According to the documentary, Team USA has a pool of 450,00 athletes to choose from while the consistently top-ranked Iroquois Nationals draw from only 400. Most players have been raised playing lacrosse and develop their skills in an unorthodox manner; this makes them a challenging opponent to competitors.
In 2010, the Haudenosaunee were denied entry into the United Kingdom for the World Lacrosse Championship due to their Iroquois Nation passports. The Iroquois Nationals turned down an offer to be given U.S. passports which resulted in the team having forfeit.
After missing the opportunity to compete against the Iroquois Nationals in 2010, the international teams were eager to test their skills against the Iroquois Nationals on the Onondaga reservation in 2015. The visiting teams received a warm welcome from the Haudenosaunee Nation, including a grand opening banquet.
Historian Richard Hill Sr. (Tuscarora) states in the movie, “It’s not just a game, it’s really about asserting our identity, our nationality, and our sovereignty through lacrosse, and that to me is the legacy we are creating for the future.”
The Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation film also uses lacrosse as a platform to discuss the struggle for sovereignty and explains how the Doctrine of Discovery is still a destructive policy for Native peoples. The doctrine issued in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, became the basis for European expansion and colonization of the Americas. Onondaga Turtle Clan Mother, Freida Jacques declares, “We are here” and lacrosse Hall of Famer Oren Lyons says, “We were never defeated.”
Gayle Anne Kelley, CEO of One Bowl Productions, told ICMN of the challenge to weave such important Native-based issues into a sports story.
“We focused on how could we weave the story of lacrosse which is so important as a Medicine game with some of these issues that are so important to indigenous people all over the world and the Iroquois participation in that,” said Kelley.
The Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation film is premiering in Los Angeles May 26th, and will be shown at select theaters throughout the summer. It will also be available on Video on Demand and iTunes starting June 20th.
Complete List of Showtimes and Locations for Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation: