By Rob Capriccioso
That cordial reception was a 180-degree turn from the tension-filled summer of 2010 that saw the players and other American Indians battle a U.S. State Department that was slow to recognize the validity of their tribal passports for traveling abroad. The White House didn’t intervene because few folks there wanted to publicly defend the authenticity of tribal citizenship cards and their use as safe and secure identification tools.
The problem for the team centered on the fact that tribal governments are sovereign entities, but the U.S. rarely goes out of its way to treat them as such. Many U.S. officials say they support tribal sovereignty, but practical applications of the ideal tend to cause problems for Indians. Tribal citizens have long wondered why membership documentation issued by tribal governments is not recognized by federal players as being equal to other forms of identification, such as state-issued driver’s licenses, or standard U.S. passports for international travel.
But what Crowley claims is the “best way” isn’t the best way for many Indians, especially for Indians who believe in their sovereignty. Many tribal leaders and citizens were disappointed by the Obama administration’s handling of the situation because they said it reeked of hypocrisy. After all, many administration members have said that they support true government-to-government relations with tribes, but when a real-life scenario presented itself that would have allowed them to show strong and lasting support, they offered a one-time waiver. They would not take a stand for the permanent relevancy of tribal sovereignty and citizenship.
The lacrosse players, instead of being able to focus on scoring a win, instead were forced to face a major dilemma of self-identity. Like most tribal citizens, the Indian players retained their own tribal identification documents, and they wanted to use those credentials for the international travel. Their reasoning made sense: They were an Indian team representing their unique Iroquois sovereign nations, so why shouldn’t they travel via their own passports? Officials in the U.S., England, and Canada didn’t take kindly to the questions, and British officials ultimately decided that U.S. or Canadian passports were the only form of identification that would be accepted. Tribal documentation simply did not cut it.