The three brothers highlight the importance of Indigenous origins of the game
Growing up as part of the Onondaga Nation, just outside of Syracuse, New York, Jeremy Thompson knew he had different talents than everyone else, especially when it came to lacrosse. The Haudenosaunee people believe lacrosse originated from a game between land and air animals, with each animal using its own strength to its advantage.
“The different animals brought a different perspective [to the game],” Thompson said. “For me, it was important to spend time with the elders in my community to learn the history [of lacrosse] and understand how these gifts came into me.”
Jeremy, 32 years old, was in Montreal with two of his younger brothers, Jerome, 30, and Miles, 28, for a talk as part of First Voices Week at Concordia on Feb. 7. All three play lacrosse professionally, as well as their youngest brother, Lyle, 26, who was not able to attend the event. Lacrosse is a huge part of their community today, and every year, people gather to play a ceremonial game.
“In the spring, to protect lacrosse players, there’s a medicine game between hundreds of people, from kids to elders,” Jeremy said. “It brings the community together, and we get out there to make sure all the lacrosse players have a safe season.”
The Thompson brothers were educated in an all-Mohawk elementary school and went to public school in the fifth grade. They didn’t speak English, so Jerome felt out of place when he and Jeremy needed to be taught the language separately from all the other kids. The two played lacrosse right through high school and into university. Jeremy played at Syracuse University, while Miles and Lyle played at the University of Albany. Jerome is the only brother who did not attend university, but he still played while studying at the Onondaga Community College.
“My dad sat all of us down and asked what we all wanted to be when we got older,” Jerome said. “We wanted to be professional lacrosse players. But he wanted us to be educated lacrosse players. He really wanted us to use lacrosse as a vehicle to an education.”
Jerome, Miles and Lyle play together for the Georgia Swarm of the National Lacrosse League (NLL), while Jeremy plays for the Saskatchewan Rush. While playing, they don’t forget about their community.
“When I’m playing and the national anthem is going off, it’s not my song, so I make my own,” Jeremy said. “I think about all the things that have come before me, and that will come after me.”
Miles represents his heritage both in the way he wears his hair in a braid, and in his style of play. “I respect my opponent and the ref, and I’m not going out there to chirp the ref or the other team,” he said.
When each brother turned 18, their father gave them the option of cutting their hair short. All of them chose to keep it in a braid, but Lyle’s was the subject of racism last month. In an away game against the Philadelphia Wings on Jan. 12, the in-arena announcer, Shawny Hill, said “Let’s snip the ponytail.”
“Things like that, I just try to forget about,” Jerome said about the incident. “Deep down, he has no idea what our hair means to us.”
Jeremy, who said his hair has been purposely pulled twice during his NLL career, hopes the incident turns into an opportunity to educate others. Hill was fired from his job, while Lyle released a statement in an effort to teach people that Indigenous people have their “own languages, music, culture and traditions.”
“The league is trying to educate our opponents,” Miles added. “They’re trying to push more media about where the game came from.”
Main photo by Gabe Chevalier.