US Rules May Keep Iroquois Team Out Of World Lacrosse Championship

UPDATE: The State Department has now agreed to allow Iroquois players and team officials to travel under Iroquois Nation passports, which clears the way for the team’s participation in the tournament.  The team still needs to catch a trans-Atlantic flight on Wednesday July 14th to compete in its first game on the 15th.

A thousand years ago, the Iroquois Nation invented the game of lacrosse. Yet despite having created the game and shared it with the world, the Iroquois may be kept out of this year’s World Championship for their sport due to U.S. visa problems.

Teams from 30 nations are scheduled to participate in the World Lacrosse Championships in England. In a positive example of international recognition of Native sovereignty, the Iroquois participate at every tournament as a sovereign nation. The problem this year is a dispute regarding the players’ passports. The 23 players have passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy, a group of six Tribal nations stretching from upstate New York into Ontario, Canada. The U.S. government says it will let players back into the country only if they have U.S. passports. The British government, meanwhile, won’t give the players entry visas if they cannot guarantee they’ll be allowed to go home.

The team has been traveling on Iroquois passports for the past 20 years, and Iroquois passport-holders have been using them to go abroad since 1977, said Denise Waterman, a member of the team’s board of directors. Within the last year, colleagues used their Iroquois passports to travel to Japan and Sweden, she said. In the past, U.S. immigration officials accepted the Iroquois passports when they obtained visas — including trips to Britain in 1985 and 1994, and in 2002 to Australia. The 2006 tournament was in Canada, and the team had no cross-border issues.

The new dispute can be traced to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which went into effect last year. The new rules require that Americans carry passports or new high-tech documents to cross the border. “Since they last traveled on their own passports, the requirements in terms of the kind of documents that are necessary to facilitate travel within and outside the hemisphere have changed,” Crowley said. “We are trying to help them get the appropriate travel documents so they can travel to this tournament.”

Iroquois team members born within U.S. borders have been offered U.S. passports, but the players refused. They see the documents as an attack on their identity, said Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a member of the Onondaga Nation who works with the team. “It’s about sovereignty, citizenship and self-identification,” said Frichner, who also is the North American regional representative to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

One Iroquois player, Brett Bucktooth, said he would rather miss the tournament than travel under a U.S. passport: “That’s the people we are, and that’s our identity.”

Today, the Iroquois team is ranked No. 4 by the Federation of International Lacrosse and represents the Haudenosaunee — an Iroquois Confederacy of the Oneida, Seneca, Mohawk, Tuscarora, Cayuga and Onondaga nations.

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