A celebration of Native American traditions

Imagine for a moment that a revered elder of our community was gravely ill. Imagine also that our Creator gave our community a great gift that can be used for healing and prevention of illness, and many other wonderful uses.

To thank the Creator for the gift, and increase the power of the medicine to be given to our revered elder, we would use this gift. The gift is a special game.

Everyone in the community gathers by the water to watch the great game. Two teams, made up of a hundred men each, face each other on a field that has no boundaries, only a single tall post or tree, to be reached at nearly any cost.

Each man clutches an extraordinary piece of sports equipment. This equipment, hand-carved, bent and woven will catch, carry, pass and throw a special ball, made under ritual conditions. Woven strips of leather conceal symbols of nature and powerful medicine contained within the ball, which has been made as hard as stone.

All in the community watch as a center man drops the ball and the game commences. Whoever wins or whoever loses is not important. What is important is thanking the Creator for the great gift and accepting what the Creator decides will be the fate of the revered elder. All have come together, in cooperation and reverence, for this special spiritual purpose, which will be remembered for thousands of years.

To capture a glimpse of the astonishing history behind the Native American game of lacrosse, as well as many other traditional Native American games, art forms, stories and practices, the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Chautauqua County is pleased to welcome the community to a “Celebration of Native American Traditions.” The celebration will be held on Sunday, Sept. 29 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Clarion Hotel, Marina & Conference Center, at 30 Lakeshore Drive, Dunkirk.

Traditional Native American games, including Lacrosse, “Hoop and Spear Game” and “Jack Sticks,” will highlight the festivities.

“‘Lacrosse,’ a rough and tumble game, was used as entertainment and sometimes as an alternative to war. The object of this game is to throw the ball through two upright goal posts. The old version of the game had no rules. Each player uses a netted stick to throw, catch and shoot the ball. It has been modernized and is played these days on an official field or box. Players wear pads and there are rules to the game. It still remains a rough game. It is considered the Iroquois National Sport,” Bill Crouse, group leader of the Allegany River Indian Dancers, explained.

“‘Jacksticks’ is a game that is very similar to lacrosse. The difference being, instead of using a netted stick, a stick similar to a field hockey stick is used. Instead of throwing a ball through the goal, two small sticks or balls tied together by a leather thong are used.” Women often play “Jacksticks.”

In addition to these and other game demonstrations, the ancient Native American art of making a lacrosse stick will be demonstrated by distinguished Native American wood carver Richard Kettle (Heron Clan, Seneca). This art form is still practiced by only a few accomplished traditional artists.

Recognized for his dedication to the heritage and culture of his people, Kettle also creates “snow snakes,” walking sticks, cradle boards, horn rattles, water drums, black ash splint baskets and other traditional items. Through working with woods such as hickory, cedar, maple, ebony and black ash, Kettle preserves the lives and skills of his ancestors.

“Through my art, I express my dreams and visions, carrying out the will of the Creator,” he said.

By watching his grandfather, Francis Kettle, Richard learned the ancient arts of making lacrosse sticks, snow snakes and working with wood.

Other special demonstrations and displays by traditional artists include Peter Jones, nationally-recognized potter and sculptor; Penny Minner, basket weaver; Debbie Hoag, corn husk doll maker; and Blaine Tallchief, Gastoweh (headdress) maker.

The Allegany River Indian Dancers, led by Crouse, will perform a number of Native American social dances. Traditional foods, displays and vendors will also be a part of this event. The event is free and open to the public.

The Boys & Girls Club of Northern Chautauqua County actively seeks to enrich the lives of girls and boys. Every day, it demonstrates its commitment to children by providing them with access to quality program activities that will enhance their lives and shape their futures. Its mission is to inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need it most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens. The Boys & Girls Club provides appropriate and diversified programs and activities that serve to attract and hold area youth to the club and provide an environment that teaches children the tools needed to build positive lives, attitudes and behaviors.

The “Celebration of Native American Traditions” is made possible by the generous support of the New York State Council on the Arts, the Seneca Nation of Indians, the United Arts Appeal, the Clarion Hotel, Marina & Conference Center, the OBSERVER, WDOE 1410, 96 KIX FM, the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, GOYA, Alma Latino Mex Restaurant, Tops Friendly Markets, and McDonalds Restaurant.

Comments on this article may be sent to