U.S.-born players of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team have been cleared to fly to Manchester, England, in time to compete in the World Lacrosse Championship beginning tomorrow night. The Iroquois Nationals, comprised of members from the six Native American nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, had been barred from traveling to Manchester because the British government would not issue visas to the team unless the U.S. State Department gave written assurances that the players would be allowed back into the United States on their Iroquois passports.
The Iroquois Nationals, the fourth ranked lacrosse team in the world, have traveled to competitions in Australia, Japan and Canada on their own Iroquois passports without problems since 1977. The current controversy raised issues of sovereignty of the Iroquois nation and placed the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration in a compromising position.
The State Department had agreed to expedite U.S. passports for the Iroquois Nationals team members but the players had refused to accept a compromise they viewed as a denial of their tribal sovereignty. The Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL), sponsors of the World Lacrosse Championship, recognizes the Iroquois Nationals as their own national team, separate from the American lacrosse team, and require players to present passports from their originating countries in order to compete.
Some U.S. legislators came out in support of the Iroquois Nationals. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson wrote to the State Department and the Department of Homeland security: “As a governor of a state with a significant Native American population, I know many tribes and pueblos will watch carefully how these young competitors are treated by the administration … I believe we have an obligation to assure these young men’s rights are protected.”