For Alfie Jacques, Making Wooden Lacrosse Sticks Is A Way Of Life For Alfie Jacques, Making Wooden Lacrosse Sticks Is A Way Of Life

The sticks provide a deep and important religious and cultural connection

ONONDAGA NATION (NCC NEWS) — From birth until death, lacrosse fills the lives of the Onondaga people.

When a baby boy is born, he is given a traditional, small wooden stick in the crib. When a man dies, he is buried with his stick at his side.

And chances are, either way, it was made by Alfie Jacques.

For nearly six decades, Jacques has spent his days carving hickory trees into wooden lacrosse sticks. By hand. He started with his father almost 58 years ago and the pair learned through trial and error. At first, the sticks they made were “ugly,” but over time, Jacques and his father perfected their craft.

“Would you be proud of making something like this?” he asked rhetorically, gesturing with a stick in his hands. “Yes you would.”

At their peak, the pair was taking orders for and making upwards of 10,000 sticks each year. But in the mid 1970s, when plastic and composite lacrosse sticks caught on, demand plummeted. Piles of split hickory meant to be steamed, molded and carved got burned up as firewood.

Still, he persisted. Though he makes only hundreds, maybe 1,000 sticks each year,  Jacques keeps going because of the importance of the game.

Lacrosse, or the “Creator’s game” holds intense religious and spiritual meaning to the Onondaga. They play “medicine games,” which can be called to heal a community, to settle a dispute or celebrate. Old players — having children makes one “old” — are pitted against young players. Unlike a normal lacrosse game, in which 10 players play for each team, medicine games can feature upwards of 100. There are no boundaries, the goals are made of sticks and the games must be played with a traditional wooden stick.

Scoring in a medicine game is simple, too. First team to three goals wins. Some games still take hours.

How the game is played matters. Jacques said the game is meant to played hard, but without anger. He’s played in them and when he gets hit, he’s not supposed to retaliate. It’s part of the game.

Jacques, who turns 70 years old later this month, hasn’t played in a medicine game in a few years. He’s been in his workshop, making sticks. If one is called, he’ll be ready and so will his sticks.

“I enjoy it immensely,” he said.


Related Articles