Native Americans played a form of hockey called Shinny. This European name for the Native American game was derived from the Scottish game “Shinty,” due to the games similarities in materials and rules. There were other stick and ball played by Native Americans, the most popular being Lacrosse (and it’s predecessor stickball). The name Shinny would eventually be used to describe all the variations of this hockey-like game played by all the different tribes. The Chumash people called the game tikauwichamong, the Cheyenne called the game ohonistuts, and the Arapaho called the game gugahawat.
It is argued to this day whether the Native Americans were playing this sport before European contact. There is inconclusive evidence, but what is fact is that by the early 1900’s the game was fully immersed in Native American oral tradition mythology. While the origins of the sport are still debated, Shinny is an excellent example of how cross-pollination of cultures evolved a new sport (which would be the ancestor to the very popular modern day hockey).
Lacrosse was the most popular team sport among the Atlantic and Great Lakes Plains Indian tribes, and was also played in the south and west as well. Lacrosse is considered one of North America’s oldest team sports, with evidence that it was played as early as the 17th century. Because so many different Native American people played some form of lacrosse, the game went by many different names. The Onondaga people called their version dehuntshigwa’es, which meant “men hit a rounded object.” The Eastern Cherokee people called their version da-nah-wah’uwsdi, and the Mohawks called their game begadwe, which both translated to “little (brother of) war.” The Ojibwe called the version bagaa’adowe, and the Choctaw called their sport kabucha, which both translated to “bump hips.” Games consisted of many players per team ranging from 100 to 1000 players, and the playing field could span miles. While the final rules were settled the day before the game, traditionally scoring was marked by where the ball hit the goal, which was a tree or pole. If the ball hit the pole at chest level, one point; if the ball hit at above arm length, two points; and if the ball hit some type of ornament on the top of the pole (usually an animal carving), that was worth three points. Games would be played from sunup until sundown, or when a team scored twenty points, whichever came first. The game began with tossing the ball up into the air and both teams rushing towards the ball. Original versions of the game encouraged hitting and violence; passing the ball was not seen as a legitimate play (more as a cowards trick). The ball was made of buckskin or wood, and the sticks were elaborately carved with an open net at the end. Lacrosse served many purposes within Native American society: dispute settlement, youth war training, recreation, betting, festivals, and religion. Ceremonial paint was worn on the body and the sticks were adorned before the game. Many rituals were also held before, during, and after the game, which included discussion on strategy, placing bets, blessing and cursing individuals, and honoring the tradition of the game. During the early 1600’s, Jesuit missionaries witnessed the game and denounced it because of its violence and connection to the old religion, but it didn’t take long for other Europeans to take an interest in the game. The name lacrosse comes from French, which came from terms used to describe field hockey. Over the next several hundred years, the game became more popular as some of the violent aspects were reduced, it was introduced into schools, and eventually became an Olympic sport. Equipment was standardized so there is only one type of stick (there used to be three different styles) with a large net at the end, and instead of a pole, nets with goalies are used for scoring.
Some historians consider Stickball to be North America’s oldest original sport. The game is meant to represent the traits and spirit of a warrior: speed, strength, endurance, and bravery. The Choctaw called this game Ishtaboli, the Little Brother of War. This game was used to settle disputes that could have led to war if left unchecked. This game has been described as more violent than lacrosse. A major difference is that each player carried two sticks instead of one. The sticks are called kabocca, and they both look like mini-lacrosse sticks. There are two poles on either side of the field, and this is the goal that the players are trying to hit with the ball. The ball they use, towa, is about the size of a golf ball is hard to catch. The ball can be scored either by throwing or touching (when inside the pouch of the stick) the pole. Modern stickball has a fish ornament on top of a 25-foot pole. If the fish is hit with the ball, that is worth 3 points, and if the pole is hit anywhere else, 1 point. If a ball goes out of bounds, the referee throws another one immediately back into the game to keep the action going. One stick is used for catching the ball; the other is used for carrying and throwing. Sticks were commonly made of hickory because of its hardness, strength, and availability in the eastern woodlands of North America. The ball is never to be touched by the hands. The ball has a spiritual essence that can only be channeled by the sticks, which represent the Earth. The tradition of the game was meant to guide morality. Before the game begins, the players line up with the leader standing slightly ahead of everyone else. He does a warrior call, and all his teammates respond with the same call back (similar to a haka war cry). During the game, a steady drumbeat was often played in the background. At the end of the game, everyone brings his sticks to the middle to symbolize unity of the tribes.
Culin, Stewart. "Games of the North American Indians." In Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902-1903, pp. 1-840. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1907.
D’urso, William. “They Remember, The Little Brother of War. The World Series of Choctaw Stickball.” SBNation Longform. 2019 Vox Media. Retrieved Aril 2019. https://www.sbnation.com/2015/9/2/9224451/they-remember-the-little-brother-of-war
Fogelson, Raymond. "The Cherokee Ball Game: A Study in Southeastern Ethnology." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1962.
“History of lacrosse.” Wikipedia Retrieved April 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_lacrosse
“Shinny.” Wikipedia. Retrieved April 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinny
Vennum, Thomas Jr. “American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War.” Washington, DC and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.