July 14, 2010

Iroquois kept from lacrosse championship

This controversy has been raging since Sunday:

Pride of a Nation

For the Iroquois, the only Native Americans who compete internationally as a sovereign people, lacrosse is more than a sport. It's a centerpiece of their centuries-old culture and a way to honor the Creator

By S.L. Price
On July 15 the Nationals are scheduled to open the 2010 lacrosse world championships against host England in Manchester, but that's no sure thing. For 27 years the team representing the Iroquois—the confederacy of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora nations—has been the sole Native American entity to compete internationally, traveling on Iroquois (or, in their language, Haudenosaunee, meaning People of the Long House) passports and balancing lacrosse's prep school vibe with an aura of history and mystery and loss. But last week, just days before their scheduled departure, the Nationals were told by officials of the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments that they would not be allowed to exit and enter the country on those documents.

The Iroquois in turn rejected an offer to travel on U.S. passports. "We are representing a nation, and we are not going to travel on the passport of a competitor," said Tonya Gonnella Frichner, an Onondaga lawyer and a representative to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. As of Monday night neither side had budged, raising the possibility that for the first time since 1990, the world championships would be contested without the game's inventors.

This might seem like a mere bureaucratic snafu, but it represents a serious threat to both the tournament and the Iroquois nation. Despite drawing from a population of only about 125,000 people scattered across northeastern North America and despite lacking the financial clout of lacrosse's international powers, the Iroquois have finished fourth in the last three world championships, and they figured to enter the 30-nation 2010 competition as true contenders. The Nationals are also the Iroquois's most public expression of sovereignty, of their long-held belief that they are an independent people. Beating mighty Team USA or defending champion Canada in Manchester would be sweet, of course. But the mere hope that the Nationals would enter the United Kingdom on their own terms, bless the tournament with a traditional tobacco-burning ceremony and then take the field against the world's best would make claiming the championship almost beside the point. "Winning is not the end-all," says Sid Jamieson, who coached the first Nationals team in the early 1980s. "Just being there is a victory."
The story bounced from blogs and social media to the mainstream media: CBS, CNN, the Washington Post. People contacted the White House via e-mail and phone. Meanwhile, interested bystanders helped out:The Iroquois Nationals are very thankful to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians for their $7,500 donation to help defray travel expenses in NYC while waiting to depart for England.

Avatar director James Cameron just donated $50,000 to help the Nationals! He said he wants to help the team go to England and win!
Finally, the feds relented:

Iroquois Team Allowed to Travel to England

By Thomas KaplanWith barely 24 hours before its first game in the world championships, the Iroquois national lacrosse team received permission on Wednesday from the State Department to travel to England on tribal passports.

The State Department’s blessing ends a five-day standoff between the Iroquois team and the federal government over whether the players could travel on their own documents instead of United States passports, as they have done in past international competitions.

Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, said in a statement that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally intervened in the case on Wednesday morning and that the team would be able to depart on Wednesday afternoon.

“I am extremely grateful to Secretary of State Clinton, who responded to this glitch promptly and efficiently,” Ms. Slaughter said. “Going forward, we must find a way to balance homeland security concerns with some common sense and a border policy that does not create unintended consequences.”
Comment:  Alas, it's not over until they're in the air. And maybe not even then.

For more on lacrosse, see Financing Crooked Arrows and Women's Lacrosse in Prague.

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