THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Double lacrossed: Iroquois face poor treatment from two countries
Back in 2007, the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, Great Britain welcomed representatives from Virginia's Indian tribes with open arms. Tribal members were feted and celebrated all over England and returned with nothing but praise for the country that altered the trajectory of Native Americans forever.
Virginia Indians must have used U.S. passports.
When the World Lacrosse Championship started in Manchester, England last Thursday, the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team was still sitting in a New York airport, waiting. The Iroquois team, ranked number four in the world, had already been stuck in the airport for days, unable to leave the United States because their tribal passports didn't cut the security mustard. So they sat and watched teams from around the world compete in the championships of a game invented by Native Americans.
Initially it was the U.S. government that looked like a jackass, trying to impose its will on the Iroquois team. Let us give you U. S. passports, the government said, won't that be easier, and by the way, isn't it magnanimous of us to give you such a gift? Who cares about that old Iroquois passport? It's partially handwritten anyway. Take them– they're the only way we're going to let you back in the country.
If the Iroquois took the U.S. passports, does that mean they would have to play for the U.S. team? Members of the lacrosse team aren't American citizens; they are citizens of the Iroquois Confederacy, which is nothing to sneeze at. A recognized nation with land stretching from New York into Ontario, the Confederacy consists of six nations: the Onondaga, the Oneida, the Seneca, the Tuscarora, the Mohawk and the Cayuga. The Confederacy is at least 200 years older than the United States, being founded with five nations in 1575. The Tuscarora are the newcomers– they didn't join until 1722. Which brings me to the real issue.
Hello England. While it's expected that the American government wouldn't see anything unethical about denying Iroquois passports and basically blackmailing tribal members into renouncing their citizenship, Britain is the real villain here. America has always treated Indians as second-class citizens, but England is another story entirely. In 1722 it was Britain that recognized the Five Nations. The Treaty of Albany was ratified by His Excellency William Burnet Esq. Captain General & Governor in Chief of the Provinces of New York, New Jerseys & Territories and restricted the Five Nations from attacking our very own Virginia colony.
So when the U.S. government finally caved last Wednesday and told the team they were free to depart and return using their Iroquois passports (which the tribe has been working for years to upgrade, by the way) the U.K. still denied them visas, even though the British government had said it was only the U.S. objection that was holding up the visas to begin with. Why did the U.K. renege?
Because they can, that's why. As David Cameron headed to the U.S. for his first White House visit last Monday, the greenhorn Prime Minister's main concern was not getting saddled with responsibility for the BP oil spill, and rightly so. But the chance Cameron spared even a niggling thought for the Iroquois Nationals is slim to none. Even though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and the National Congress of American Indians advocated on behalf of the Iroquois Confederacy, U.K. officials, including Cameron, would not be moved.
And people aren't angry about it. As a matter of fact, while a few people think the Iroquois are rock stars for what they have done, most people, including many Native Americans, are rather put out with the Iroquois Nationals team for refusing to take the passports offered them by the U.S. or Canadian governments. "If lacrosse is that important to them, they should just take the passports already," Pittsburgh attorney Pete Merrick said last Friday, "They've made their point."
Obviously they haven't. What's the point of playing a sacred game if you have to give up what makes it sacred to play it? It seems David Cameron and those who think like him have missed the point entirely.
Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.