NEDROW, N.Y. – Although the Iroquois Nationals lost a chance to win the 2010 World Lacrosse Championships now underway in England, they won a huge victory in the court of public opinion: They let the world know that sovereign indigenous peoples are still here, still resilient, and still resolute in insisting that they have the right to be who they are.
Despite an outpouring of support from Native organizations, powerful politicians, and thousands of people around the world, and regardless of a weeklong diplomatic effort, the British government refused to recognize the Iroquois Nationals’ Haudenosaunee passports or provide them with visas to travel to England to play in the championship games that are considered the Olympics of lacrosse.
The team’s story is documented in more than 3,300 news articles and videos in the U.S. and international media.
The British announced their decision July 17 after the team had missed the opening game of the championships on Thursday, July 15, and their second scheduled game on Saturday. The announcement came in a press release issued by the team’s board of directors.
“But let it be known that we did not withdraw from the tournament, and believe we won without ever playing by demonstrating to the world the continuing relevance of indigenous sovereignty in the 21st century,” said Oren R. Lyons, Onondaga Faithkeeper, and the team’s honorary chairman.
It was a roller coaster week of expectations and disappointments for the players, who hoped each day that clearance would be provided for their travel to Manchester, England.
The team and its delegation of coaches, family members and supporters were in New York since Sunday, July 11, when they were originally scheduled to fly.
Each day, Delta Airlines rebooked the team’s late afternoon flight, hoping that clearance would be issued, but departure time came and went without the team on board.
The airline had waived re-booking fees each day, but even with that generous gesture, the 23-member team and its delegation – around 50 people – accrued more than $100,000 in unexpected expenditures by their stay in the city. "Avatar" director James Cameron donated $50,000 to the cause.
Three days before July 11, the British government announced it would not issue visas unless the U.S. government gave assurance that the indigenous players would be allowed to return to their homes through U.S. immigration – a request whose logic is elusive since the team’s ancestors have lived for millennia in the area of what is now known as north central New York and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone the right to leave their country and return to their country.
Citizens of the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) Confederacy’s six nations have used Haudenosaunee passports for international travel for more than three decades. But both the U.S. and British governments refused to honor the passports, saying they didn’t meet new post-911 security standards.
The U.S. State Department relented on Wednesday, July 14, and agreed to a one time only waiver, assuring the British that team members would be allowed to return home.
But, in an inexplicable snub of the Obama administration, the British then said the assurance was no longer good and insisted that the players travel on U.S. or Canadian passports.
The State Department earlier had offered to issue U.S. passports – an impossible request, Lyons said.
“While we are deeply disappointed we could not bring our talented team to the world championships, there simply was no way we could accede to the recommendation that we accept either American or Canadian passports to travel. The Haudenosaunee passports we travel on – like the game of lacrosse itself which our ancestors invented – are essential to our identity as a sovereign people making our way in the world community.”
Support came from many sources over the week. United South and Eastern Tribes President Brian Patterson was one of the first to offer support by writing to contacts in the White House and State Department on July 9.
On July 16, the National Congress of American Indians wrote to British Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to allow the team into England.
“We strongly urge the United Kingdom to follow the actions of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and clear the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team, representing the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, for international travel on their Haudenosaunee passports,” said NCAI’s President Jefferson Keel in the letter.
Keel noted that the game of lacrosse is “indigenous to Native Americans.” The game, which is called by the Iroquois “the Creator’s game,” was founded by Iroquois ancestors around 1,000 years ago and has profound cultural and spiritual meaning.
“In the view of Native peoples, denying entry to the game’s historical and cultural emissaries is a troubling scenario,” Keel said.
Along the way, the Jackson Lewis law firm joined the effort pro bono to intervene with the British government.
And toward the end of the week, when the team still hoped to play its second scheduled game, but time was running out, an anonymous donor offered to charter a plane to fly them to Manchester if the British granted a last minute clearance, said Valerie Taliman, the team’s spokeswoman.
“There have been incredible acts of generosity,” Taliman said.
The team traveled home on Saturday, disappointed, but still in good humor and on Monday they were still “decompressing” after an intense week in the city, said Dr. Percy Abrams, the team’s executive director.
Lyons thanked U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “for the cooperative and respectful talks that led to their agreement to let us travel in and out of the United States on our passports for this event,” and said the confederacy would continue to upgrade its passports “to a level of security consistent with the requirements of an increasingly security-conscious world.”
But he reserved his highest praise for the team members.
“We salute our team, who endured this struggle with dignity and the understanding that they were standing up for something that will benefit seven generations into the future, as true representations of the living Iroquois spirit.”
SOVEREIGN TEE Iroquois Confederacy
Read About The History Of The Iroquois Nation