Iroquois may be kept from lacrosse tourney
New U.S. rules mean nation’s passports no good for re-entry
NEW YORK – The teams participating in the World Lacrosse Championships in England represent 30 nations, from Argentina to Latvia to South Korea to Iroquois.
The Iroquois helped invent lacrosse and, in a rare example of international recognition of American Indian sovereignty, they participate at every tournament as a separate nation. But they might not be at this year’s world championship tournament because of a dispute over the validity of their passports.
The 23 players have passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy, a group of six Indian nations overseeing land that stretches from upstate New York into Ontario, Canada.
The U.S. government says it will only let players back into the country if they have U.S. passports, a team official said. The British government, meanwhile, won’t give the players visas if they cannot guarantee they’ll be allowed to go home, the official said.
Iroquois team members born within U.S. borders have been offered U.S. passports, but the players refuse to carry them, because they see the government-issued 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,” Frichner said.
The Iroquois have used their own passports in the past, but State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the new dispute can be traced to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which went into effect last year. The new rules require, among other things, that Americans carry passports or high-tech documents to cross the country’s borders.
“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.”
Tribes’ efforts to meet the new security requirements have been ongoing. A group of American Indian leaders requested funding from the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 to develop cards that would comply with the new rules, according to an agency document. Idaho’s Kootenai tribe and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agreed last year to develop the first enhanced tribal card acceptable under the new guidelines.
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,” he said.
Bucktooth, 27, also spoke of his deep cultural and personal connection with lacrosse – first played by Iroquois and Huron, perhaps as early as 1,000 years ago.
“My father put a wooden lacrosse stick into my crib when I was a baby, and now that I have a son, I put a lacrosse stick into his crib,” he said. “In our culture, we all start playing lacrosse young.”
The Iroquois team is scheduled to play at the 2010 World Lacrosse Championship that starts Thursday in Manchester, England.
In the past, U.S. immigration officials accepted the Iroquois passports when they obtained visas – including for trips to Britain in 1985 and 1994, and as recently as 2002 to Australia. The 2006 tournament was held in Canada.
Team officials went to the British Consulate in New York on Monday to reapply for the visas and plead their case, but were turned away. Later in the day, the English Lacrosse Association said in a statement it expected “the Iroquois will arrive on time for the opening ceremony and games.”