- The Creator's Game: Lacrosse, Identity, and Indigenous Nationhood by Allan Downey
The Creator's Game is a valuable and much-needed addition to the historiography of lacrosse, one that is Native-centric and attempts to decolonize the oldest team game in North America. Offering fresh perspectives and evidence on previously examined topics, Downey's work is a tremendous accomplishment in expressing a Native perspective on lacrosse. As Downey writes, "Using lacrosse as a lens, The Creator's Game reveals how the construction, articulation, and activation of nationhood and cultural identities fundamentally informed Indigenous experiences during Canada's Colonial Age," identified as the era from 1860 to 1990 (20).
Not only does the author eschew prevailing terms such as "Indian," "Native," and "Aboriginal" in favor of "Indigenous," but Downey uses Indigenous spellings for names and concepts. The frequency of these spellings for numerous nations, tribal groups, and communities will remind readers that the history of lacrosse is fundamentally a Native one. Two examples include Hodinöhsö:ni', traditionally appearing as "Haudenosaunee," "Iroquois," or "Five [or Six] Nations" in most scholarship and in the historical record, and Skwxwú7mesh, the Native name for the Squamish Nation of British Columbia.
Although Downey is careful not to reveal private aspects of traditional Longhouse or Potlatch ceremonies, what he does discuss throughout the work is extremely insightful into how Native communities view lacrosse, not to mention the past two centuries of their own histories.
Originally the author's dissertation, Downey's project is also very personal, even therapeutic, as he describes himself as an urban Indian recovering his Indigenous identity. He is as much a researcher as he is an apprentice to Indigenous mentors. He bluntly asserts, "I don't pretend to separate myself from the story I'm telling." More interested in "race, identity formation and nationalism" rather than athletic accomplishments on the playing field, The Creator's Game is part of a process "to recover my culture, stories, ceremonies, language, and more importantly my identity" (18).
Rich in recent scholarship on Native culture and history, The Creator's Game navigates through a framework defined by postcolonial scholarship and, for source material, draws upon community oral traditions, personal experiences, and archival records. Downey's work serves as a reminder that, for some topics, it may be necessary to employ unconventional theoretical models to discover historical truths. However, there are occasions when the author falls back on clichéd phrases such as "time immemorial" (190, 222) to express practices dating back many generations.
The Creator's Game features five separate chapters on the non-Native appropriation of lacrosse during the mid-nineteenth century in eastern Canada, the ironic use of modern lacrosse in Indian residential schools between 1880 and 1930 to assimilate Native students, the adoption of Iroquois lacrosse by Native communities in British Columbia and how they contributed to a pan-Indigenous nationhood, the role of travelling Native box [End Page 170] lacrosse players and iron workers in eroding tribal boundaries, and recent efforts by Iroquois organizers to assert nationhood through international lacrosse competition. These chapters overlap temporally and thematically, which may be confusing to readers not already familiar with either lacrosse or Native history.
Downey's methodology is both academically unorthodox and intellectually intriguing. The book begins with a lacrosse creation story as told to the author by Cayuga faith-keeper Delmor Jacobs in June 2011. Additionally, each chapter commences with a trickster/transformer character called 'Usdas conversing with the author about forthcoming subject matter. In the tradition of Native storytelling, a trickster is a satirical and altruistic magicwielding shaman who performs pranks and has much to teach others. Downey's trickster points out the "hysterical contradictions within settler-colonialism and Canada's colonial history" (19). Whether these literary vignettes enhance or undermine the goal of each chapter will be up to individual readers.
For all of Downey's strengths, the book's fundamental problem is rooted in geography. While it...