it wasn't uncommon to die of exhaustion while playing lacrosse in Iroquois country hundreds of years ago. A traditional championship could last three days, with hundreds of players on a field a mile wide. The terrain looks a little punier tonight at the Air Canada Centre, where the Toronto Rock are severely trouncing the Vancouver Ravens.
Much like kayaking, canoeing and archery, this native pastime -- named by French settlers who thought the playing stick was shaped like a cross -- has been appropriated and made into a recreational industry, even an Olympic event, while we First Nations people now play Nintendo games and blackjack in return. A fair trade.
But sitting here with 13,000 other fans, I can't help but notice how the game has changed. Our elders would no longer recognize it in its recontextualized form. Now, rock music entertains the audience along with such traditional aboriginal foods as pizza, hot dogs and beer. Titanium sticks are the weapon of choice instead of the solid wood I remember.
Still, somewhere in my indigenous soul, I'm amused to notice how laced with irony this whole National Lacrosse League match seems to be. It starts when I approach the ACC, where several aggressive people harass the crowd in an attempt to sell them tickets. I believe they're referred to as "scalpers." Thankfully, they all seem to be Caucasian.
Once inside, we stand for the national anthem, during which a spiritual and sardonic twinge ripples across the space-time continuum when the words "our home and native land" flash across a giant screen above two dozen people playing an Iroquoian game in a city bearing the Iroquoian name "Toronto." The two native players on the Toronto Rock, the Squire brothers, must wince every time that happens. One member of the dance team, a young Mohawk woman named Dawn who also happens to be my girlfriend, has confessed to conflicted feelings.
Perhaps the most unnerving moment comes when the guy who operates the organ or the tape deck plays that annoying musical riff, the same riff I've heard at football and baseball games, the one that ends when the whole audience yells "Charge!" It's derived from the cavalry signal for "attack" played on the bugle. Usually before an attack on Indians. It's hard to enjoy a game when racial memory keeps you ducking behind the seats.
To pass the time, my friend Ian and I, sitting up in level three dodging low-flying planes, spend most of the game explaining the rules to a couple of Himalayan Sherpas seated behind us. They may start a franchise team in Kathmandu.