Climate Dispatch: How Climate Change and Lacrosse (Yes, Lacrosse) Came to Intersect in My Life

Deirdre Henderson, Columnist

I have two sons, both grown now. I raised them in upstate New York where the game of lacrosse is a big deal.  It’s a youth sport, a varsity high school sport and a major collegiate sport.

Both of my sons played the “fastest game on two feet” from elementary school through high school. One was a high school Academic All-American in lacrosse, the other was the subject of a lacrosse feature in Sports Illustrated for Kids.  My six-year-old grandson just got his first lacrosse stick. I spent a lot of time ferrying my kids around to lacrosse practice and tournaments and sitting on the sidelines of lacrosse games. I came to love the sport. 

Climate change and lacrosse?

So what does this have to do with climate change? Well, one day at a youth lacrosse tournament near Albany, New York, we got to meet and listen to an iconic lacrosse player named Oren Lyons.  Oren was one of the best collegiate lacrosse players ever to grace the game. He was born into the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy (or Haudenosaunee, as they call themselves—”people of the long house”) and grew up in traditional culture speaking his indigenous language. 

The Haudenosaunee invented the game of lacrosse, which they have been playing for hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand years. It has spiritual meaning for them, and they believe it was given to them by the Creator.  In fact, they call it the “Creator’s Game.”

After his collegiate lacrosse career at Syracuse (a university built on ancestral Haudenosaunee land), Oren became an artist and a chief and faith keeper within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. He spent much of his life teaching about the history and cultural values of his people and advocating for indigenous and human rights and environmental issues. Now in his nineties, he is retired from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he was a professor of American Studies and director of the Native American Studies Program.

The Seventh Generation Principle

One of the Haudenosaunee values Oren teaches is the “Seventh Generation Principle.”  Here’s how he expresses it:

“We are looking ahead, as one of the first mandates given us as chiefs, is to make sure that every decision we make relates to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. … What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

And I was particularly moved when Oren related this Haudenosaunee belief:

“We say that the faces of coming generations are looking up from the earth. So when you put your feet down, you put them down very carefully – because there are generations coming one after the other. If you think in these terms, then you’ll walk a lot more carefully, be more respectful of this earth.”

Historians are not sure exactly when the Seventh Generation Principle entered Haudenosaunee culture, but it was present at least as far back as the fifteenth century when many historians believe the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was born and the agreement among the Haudenosaunee nations, the Great Law of the Peace, came into existence.

As a person concerned about climate change and, especially, how it will affect my children, grandchildren and future generations, the Seventh Generation Principle struck a chord.  It is an ancient articulation of what many of us now call intergenerational equity. More than anything, the moral imperative to leave a livable world to my children, grandchildren and future generations is what turned me into a climate activist.

How we can invoke it

Perhaps we should invoke the Seventh Generation Principle as we ask our government leaders and service districts to take action to reduce the fossil fuel pollution that is warming our planet and causing the climate crisis. 

The Truckee Donner Public Utility District is now working on its energy resource plan for the future. The Tahoe Forest Hospital District is working on plans for its facilities.  The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is working on a facilities master plan and has before it for consideration a student-led “Resolution to Establish Goals for Energy Efficiency, Clean Energy and Carbon Neutrality.”  

Will they have the wisdom to consider how their decisions will affect our descendants—to take into consideration those who are not yet born but will inherit the world we are making? This is the moral question of our time. I hope they give the right answer.

Deirdre Henderson is the group leader of the North Tahoe Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the co-lead of 100% Renewable Truckee, a lawyer, mother and grandmother. She lives full-time in Truckee.

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