In the opening scene of the movie “Crooked Arrows,” young native Americans with painted faces race through the woods chasing after a leather ball, giving movie goers a glimpse of the the roots of an ancient tradition.

That fast-paced, exciting scene fades into current time, introducing a rag-tag group of native lacrosse players who seem to have lost their mojo.  And that is probably the most unlikely part of a recently released movie starring three young men from the Tuscarora reservation in Sanborn. It’s pretty clear that nobody they know would ever lose their passion for lacrosse.

Just how important is lacrosse to Native Americans?

“Very very important.  It’s woven right into us from birth and into the next life,” according to Joanne Weinholtz the Native American historical director at the Tuscarora Indian School in Sanborn. 

”Crooked Arrows,” which opened recently across the nation, and which played briefly in the Niagara region, showcases a Native American lacrosse team’s taking a shot at glory as they play their way through a prep school lacrosse tournament. 

The movie features several local Tuscarorans, Emmett Printup IV, Aaron Printup, James Bissell, who each won their spots though auditions which were held around the county.  The movie is pretty standard sports movie plotline, but it focuses on the importance of lacrosse in the native culture.  

”It’s a ‘Bad News Bears,’ with a native twist,” said Bissell

The three young Tuscarorans had to make a two month commitment to the production and worked many long days not actually playing lacrosse but “acting lacrosse,” as Bissell noted. However, many of their family and friends were able to appear in the movie as well. Bissell’s wife, Arien, played a cheerleader on the Crooked Arrows cheer squad.

Also, in a scene where the native team takes on a wealthy prep school team, they are surprised by the appearance of a crowd full of boosters, played by family and friends who rode buses chartered by the Iroquois nation, including three buses from Tuscaroara, which provided extras for the scene. 

”All my kids were there, my in-laws, uncles, and cousins too,” Bissell said. In the movie, the appearance of fans for the Crooked Arrows prompts the coach to ask his father how so many native fans were able to gather for the game. The father holds up his cell phone and smiles. “Smoke signals,” he replies.

The reviews for the movie have been pretty positive and lacrosse fans seem to love it,  

The plot involves a young native who has turned his back on his people to run a casino. His car license plates read “Wampum,” indicating his love for money and success.  When he asks the council for help to expand the casino, his father, the chief, barters with him, making him take a position as the “spiritual advisor” to the reservations’ lacrosse team. 

The movie has all the inspirational moments that fans of the genre seem to love, including suspense, romance, and inspiration, Bissell said. Beyond that, it was a unexpected joy to make, he added.

The young lacrosse players, recruited for the teams from around the nation, seemed to impress the filmmakers. “We were lighthearted and goofy the whole time,” Bissell said. “Even the people we worked with said we were like a breath of fresh air.”

Though the impact of the movie may not have registered at the box office, it did the native American communities right according to Weinholtz and the young Tuscarorans.

“When you’re born native, you’re pretty much born with a stick in your hand,” says Emmett Printup IV.  Emmett plays lacrosse for SUNY Onondaga in Syracuse, NY.  The NCJAA team has won 6 national titles in 7 years.

Bissell, also raised playing lacrosse, now has four children ages 1 to 8 who play — especially his 1-year-old, who he says is the most enthusiastic.

”There are very few (native) people who don’t play lacrosse,” said Bissell, who with Emmett Printup plays on a Box Lacrosse league under the lights at Smokin Joe’s snow park at the foot of Main Street, and which is (as of press time) in the final rounds of playoffs. The games are open to the public for $10 a ticket, and given the antics of the young players in “Crooked Arrows,” could surely provide some great lacrosse drama.

While the movie is no longer playing in the area, many scenes from the movie and the filmmaking are online at and the movie is sure to hit television screens soon where, most likely, like the Bad News Bears franchises and so many other beloved sports movies, it will be enjoyed for many years to come and its message “dream big,” will reach the hearts and minds of young young fans for many years to come.

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Contact features editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263. Jason Murphy contributed to this report.

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