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Everyting you need to know about Indigenous North American Stickball

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Indigenous North American stickball is a team sport primarily played on an open field in which teams of two players each attempt to control and shoot a ball toward the opposing team’s goal with two sticks. It is similar to the sport of lacrosse. “Opposing teams use handcrafted sticks, or kabocca, and a woven leather ball, or towa, in Choctaw Stickball.”

Each team uses only their sticks to advance the ball along the field to the opposing team’s goalpost, never touching or tossing the ball with their hands. When a player hits the opposing team’s goalpost with the ball, points are scored.”

Several Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, Seminole and Yuchi play the sport. Tribal elders developed stickball games to settle disputes peacefully. Lacrosse is a Northern American and Canadian tradition; stickball, on the other hand, is still played in Oklahoma and areas of the Southeastern United States where it originated.

Although the first written record of stickball was not until the mid-eighteenth century, there is evidence that the game had been established and played for hundreds of years prior.

What is Stickball?

Image Source: Choctaw Indian Fair Page

According to one Cherokee legend, the first stickball game was played by terrestrial creatures and birds. A bear, a deer and a turtle were overconfident that they would win the game through sheer power, but the team of birds outwitted the terrestrial creatures and won the game in the end.

Traditional stickball games were frequently played over several days, with up to 1,000 men from opposing tribes participating. The game played an important role in maintaining calm and was frequently organized in place of fighting.

It was also used to toughen young soldiers for combat and as a fun component to festivals and celebrations, in addition to settling disputes.

Stickball is still played by groups across North America today. Players take turns tossing the ball down the field, divided into two sections by poles or sticks at each end.

Stickball sticks with rounded ends are used to fling the ball along the field toward teammates who strike or contact the pole to score points.

Each game begins with traditional ceremonies, which may include smudging or the burning of tobacco. This is said to cleanse players’ brains before they begin the game.

While stickball rules and rituals have developed throughout time, the game’s foundation remains a vital method for communities to stay connected to Native traditions.

History of Indigenous North American Stickball

Traditional stickball games were occasionally multi-day contests that lasted several days. A hundred to 1,000 men from rival villages or tribes could take part. The games were held on the broad plains between the two settlements, with goals ranging from 500 yards (460 m) to several miles apart.

The rules for these games were determined the day before. There was no out-of-bounds in general and the ball could not be touched with the hands. The goals were made of huge boulders or branches; later, wooden poles were utilized.

Playing time was frequently from sunrise to sunset. The game started with the ball being thrown into the air and both teams trying to catch it. Because of the vast number of players participating, these games typically featured a swarm of players swarming the ball and slowly moving around the field.

Passing the ball was considered deception and avoiding an opponent was considered cowardly. Medicine men served as coaches and tribal women were mainly relegated to providing drinks and betting on the sidelines. The historical game played a significant role in maintaining peace between the tribes that participated in it.

The game was used to toughen young warriors for combat, recreation, as part of festivals and for the bets involved, as well as to settle conflicts and grievances among the different tribes. Term would often be determined and agreed upon prior to the game and the losing team would have no choice but to accept the outcome.

If a tribe refused to accept the rules of the game, the issue would frequently result in battle. Although the game’s historical timeline is incomplete, there have been several known games throughout history that have impacted not only tribes but the nation as a whole.

After observing Wyandot people play, a Jesuit missionary called Jean de Brébeuf was the first to write about the Native American game in the mid-17th century. Despite his condemnation of the game owing to its ferocity, many English colonies were attracted by it and began playing it themselves.

The Ottawa tribe utilized stickball to gain entry into Fort Mackinac in 1763. head Pontiac, the head of the Ottawas, invited soldiers from the fort to attend a game in honor of the king’s birthday. While the soldiers were enjoying the festivities and entertainment, the Ottawa players approached the fort and massacred them.

After the Caughnawaga Indians demonstrated a game of stickball in Montreal, Canada, in 1834, many Canadians were interested in the sport. William George Beers codified the native game into modern lacrosse in 1856.

Stickball did not enjoy a comeback in southern North America until the mid- to late-twentieth century. Meanwhile, the game spread to the streets of the Northeastern United States.


Why did Native Americans play stickball?

Itti’ kapochcha to’li’, also known as “little brother of war,” has been passed down from generation to generation and was historically used to settle conflicts between First American tribes over territory and politics. Stickball has been documented since the early 18th century.

Which Native American tribe participated in stickball?

Several Native American tribes participate in the sport, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, Seminole, and Yuchi. Tribal elders developed stickball games to settle disputes peacefully.

What do Native American stick games entail?

Handgame, also known as stickgame, is a Native American guessing game in which one team conceals marked “bones” in their hands while another team guesses their position.

Where did stickball originate from?

Stickball evolved from English sports such as old cat, rounders, and town ball in the late 18th century. Stickball is also related to stoolball, a game played in southern England and colonial Boston in North America. All of these games took place on a field equipped with bases, a ball, and one or more sticks.

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