Passport Flap Keeps Iroquois Out of World Lacrosse Championships

Condensed by Native Village

New York: The World Cup Lacrosse Championship games were held last summer in England, but the Iroquois Nationals team --ranked 4th in the world -- was forced to stay home. The 23 North American players were blocked from boarding a flight to England. The United Kingdom said the passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy would not be accepted.   

Lacrosse was invented by Native Americans, so representing the Confederacy as indigenous players was a team priority.  But when the players tried to use their previously accepted tribal passports, they were grounded at JFK airport in New York.

The Iroquois Nationals then pleaded with the State Department and President Obama to help them get around Homeland Security's tighter standards. The Iroquois passports, which are partly handwritten, lack holograms and other features that guard against forgeries.

 "The Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] right to travel to and from their home territory is an ancestral birthright, a fundamental right, and an international human right," said Steven Newcomb from the Indigenous Law Institute.

While the Iroquois team would be allowed to travel using U.S. or Canadian passports, they refused to give in.  So Secretary of State Clinton gave the team a pass to travel without official U.S. passports. But the British government still refused to allow the team to enter their country.

"I just didn't understand why a country would go through all these hoops to deny an indigenous team the opportunity to compete in an international game," said Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians.

The Iroquois Nationals decided their national identity was more important than a championship dream. They stayed home, and bowed out of the tournament.

By standing up for their indigenous identities, the team emerged with a different and more important victory.

 "We fought a battle that was bigger than lacrosse.... It brought indigenous people back to the forefront," said Marty Ward, a 25-year-old goalie. "It let everyone know that we're still here -- we haven't gone anywhere."