Educationally speaking: Children of the Longhouse and The History of Lacrosse



Little Miss and I have been studying Native American history for the last month or more while reading Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac. I found a curriculum to use with the book that is very simple and includes science, health, and language arts along with history lessons. This allowed us to branch off into other subjects while reading.

The book focuses on Ohkwa’ri and Osti:stia, two Iroquois children, or, yes, children of the longhouse. The siblings are twins (check) and Ohkwarri is on the cusp of becoming a man. He’s also become the target of one of the boys in the village after he overheard the boy conspiring with his friend to attack a neighboring tribe and told the village council about it.

Here is a brief description of the book:

When Ohkwa’ri overhears a group of older boys planning a raid on a neighboring village, he immediately tells his Mohawk elders. He has done the right thing—but he has also made enemies. Grabber and his friends will do anything they can to hurt him, especially during the village-wide game of Tekwaarathon (lacrosse). Ohkwa’ri believes in the path of peace, but can peaceful ways work against Grabber’s wrath?

I agree with this review on The Home Librarian about the book: “If I had one complaint about the book, it’s a minor one. There is a glossary with pronunciation guide that was incredibly helpful. However, it’s tucked at the back of the book so I didn’t realize it was there until about half way through the book when I came across a word and wondered if there was a pronunciation guide. It would have been better to put it up front so the reader knows it’s there and so you first see how to pronounce the names Ohkwar’ri (Oh-gwah’-li) and Otsi:stia (Oh-dzee-dzyah).”

It is easy to see from the picture on the front of the book and from the description of the game that Tekwaarathon(pronounced Day-gwaah-la-ton) is actually lacrosse. I had no idea until I read this book that Lacrosse was passed down from Native Americans. Well, let’s say I had a very vague idea it was somehow connected to Native American culture, but I had forgotten it over the years. Like maybe I heard it somewhere one day when I was young, but I didn’t really remember much about it until we started this book.

At first, the book was slow and overly descriptive in some parts in my opinion. I suggested we skip past those parts but Little Miss said she liked even the slow parts so I plowed through them and then ended up liking them. I felt bad that I was impatient for the story to pick up and get to the game already and finally reminded myself that the book was as much about presenting Iroquois culture as it was about the action of the game. There are 13 long chapters in the book and it took us until chapter 12 to get to the actual game scenes. That chapter did not disappoint either. In fact, when we finished the book yesterday, Little Miss said, “Read it again!”

I have declined to read it again at this time but may do so later. I did enjoy the book, but the chapters were quite long and we need to move on to another history-based book for a new unit next week. I may read the book to her at night, however.

The curriculum we used provided us with various historical, scientific, and artistic videos and sites. One of the resources that fascinated me was a video about the history of lacrosse:

This prompted me to hop on the interwebs and read a bit more about the history of the game and its connection to the  Haudenosaunee or Iroquois people. First, I found out in the video that the French called the Haudenosaunee Iroquois. They weren’t always called Iroquois. I had no idea their name had been changed by the French.

Second, I had no idea the game was being played in 1100. Tekwaarathon, by the way, is pronounced nothing like it looks like so that was a lot of fun to try to pronounce while reading it to Little Miss.

According to History.com, “The early versions of lacrosse matches played by Native American nations included 100 to 1,000 men or more using wooden sticks, sometimes with net baskets or pockets attached, and small, deer hide-wrapped balls. Deer sinew formed nets.  Borderless fields could span miles, and games could last days.”

In our book, the author talked about the bruises and cuts on the main character’s face as he competes in the game and the injuries that many of the men had while playing.

Women did occasionally play the game as well and definitely play it these days.

Some Native Americans believed the Creator gave the game to them as medicine and entertainment. They played for a variety of reasons, one being to lift the spirits of someone who was sick, which is why the game was played in The Children of The Longhouse.

If you watch the video, you will see that the name of the game was changed to lacrosse by French missionaries because they thought the stick resembled the cross carried by bishops during religious ceremonies.

Somewhere along the line the game became more of an exclusive game that was mainly played by the elite or the wealthy. In 1859, Canada adopted Lacrosse and it was made their national sport for a while but as we all know that was later replaced by hockey.

You can read more about the game’s fascinating history on History.com.

I’m so glad I veered off the strict curriculum I had been using and went a bit rogue by choosing a historical fiction book we could use as a jump-off point into history lessons. When I decided to do Little Miss’s history this way, I knew I wanted to focus on Native American history for at least a month and move on to other early history for another month but I wasn’t sure which book I would use.

I can’t remember how I stumbled on The Children of the Longhouse, but I’m glad it did. It not only allowed me to teach Little Miss about our nation’s first real settlers but also enlightened me to their culture and history. That’s one of the aspects of homeschooling I enjoy the most – being able to learn right along with the kids.

If you have a historical fiction book for children you think we should dive into next, let me know in the comments.

5 thoughts on “Educationally speaking: Children of the Longhouse and The History of Lacrosse

  1. Pingback: Sunday Bookends: 2023 needs a restart, a mix of books, favorite blog posts, and Americans portraying the British and vice versa | Boondock Ramblings

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