PABLO – Centuries before the sport was called lacrosse, it had people who played it, and what a game it was.
Up to 1,000 men at a time would grab sticks, and chase a ball over fields that could run for miles.
A single game could last 72 hours.
“I don’t know if this part is true,” Alex Alviar says, “but I’ve heard stories about it. They’d play for two to three days, and there were no boundaries, just goals that were three to five miles apart. They’d hide in trees with the ball, and I suppose they could run out at night and score a goal.”
Native Americans invented lacrosse – “The Creator’s game,” some of them called it – although it took a French Jesuit priest, Jean de Brebeuf, to give it its present-day moniker.
Brebeuf first saw Iroquois Indians play the game in 1637 and dubbed it la crosse, which in French, means “the stick.”
The field and number of players to a side (10) have shrunk in the centuries since, but lacrosse’s forerunner is very much a traditional Native game.
For Alviar, a teacher at Salish Kootenai College who grew up playing the sport in Detroit and continues to do so in Missoula, it didn’t seem right that as lacrosse began gaining popularity in Montana (see related story, Page A1), the state’s Indian reservations weren’t a part of it.
So he brought lacrosse to the Flathead Indian Reservation last year.
“What I’m seeing more and more of in my classrooms is a lot less male students,” Alviar says. “I wanted to create a program to give additional support to high school kids. I think it helps them with academics, with making healthy choices and emotionally, and that can help with them having higher educational goals.”
“Plus,” he adds, “it’s just fun. It’s a Native game, and they should be there.”