Indigenous Success Stories

Call to Action # 87: Sports and Reconciliation (87-91)

Oren Lyons helped bring lacrosse to the world stage

September 13, 2023
An Indigenous man stands at a podium.
Oren Lyons is being inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. (Syracuse University)

CBC Indigenous: Oren Lyons, who helped found the Haudenosaunee Nationals lacrosse team in the 1980s, will be added to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame next month.

Lyons, now 93, was born in 1930 on the Onondaga Nation in New York state. He earned a scholarship to play lacrosse at Syracuse University, where he was teammates with NFL legend Jim Brown. During his time at Syracuse he also won All-American Honours and the Orange Key Award for athletic and academic excellence.

The Haudenosaunee Nationals became the first (and currently only) sovereign Indigenous team competing in international sport, winning bronze medals at the World Lacrosse Championships in 2014, 2019 and 2023.

Lyons spoke recently with CBC Indigenous.

The following was edited for length and clarity:

Q: What were your thoughts when you first found out you were being inducted into the hall of fame?

A:  It’s amazing, an amazing honour. It caught me by surprise. I got it in the letter, but I had to keep quiet about it until the announcement. When I think back to all the great players out there, to receive this is an amazing honour. It caught me by surprise, a good surprise and you don’t get that kind of surprise this time of your life, I’ll tell you that.

An Indigenous man with a silver fox chain.
Oren Lyons, 93, was born in 1930 on the Onondaga Nation in New York state. (Syracuse University )

Q: Why was lacrosse so important to you all these years?

A: To the Haudenosaunee, it’s much more than a sport. It’s a medicine game and we’ve been playing it over 1,600 years. In fact, we played it on the other side of the stars. Any of our nation’s people can call for a game, you never question it because it’s spiritual and it activates the whole community. It’s played in the old style, no pads, just sticks and the ball and up to 60 to 80 people.

Q: Can you tell me about your first experience with lacrosse?

A: My father took me to his game when I was five years old. They were playing indoor box lacrosse in 1935, in Geneva, N.Y. I think they played on a basketball court but the game was fast, I remember that. They were playing indoor box with no face mask, no health care.

The best thing I remember about that whole event was the spaghetti dinner after.

During the Second World War, a lot of the men went off to the war and it left the really young and the old men behind to play and I ended up playing with my father. 

Q: Why did you play so long?

A: A lot of fun and kind people, and eventually people wanted me in net because I was a pretty good goaltender. I played for Syracuse University and made All American, then played for several box lacrosse teams. I went on to the New York City Lacrosse Club and also the New Jersey Lacrosse Club. I played for a long, long time.

Q: Would you have any advice for up and coming players?

A: Stay clean. Stay off the drugs and work hard on your conditioning. Be respectful. One thing I see today is the public is just not treating referees in a respectful way. They often volunteer their time and then get yelled at by screaming fans. It’s just not fair. 

Lyons will join fellow inductees Phyllis Bomberry, Georges St. Pierre, Hiroshi Nakamura, Danielle Peers, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and the Ferbey Four at the Hall of Fame ceremony Oct. 19 at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.


Oscar Baker III

Oscar Baker III is a Black and Mi’kmaw reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation. He is the Atlantic region reporter for CBC Indigenous. He is a proud father and you can follow his work @oggycane4lyfe