International Men

July 17, 2010

Update: Iroquois Defeated in Passport Impasse

from staff reports | updated 07.17.10 at 5:35 a.m.

Brett Bucktooth and the Iroquois Nationals will not make it to Manchester, as the British government will not allow them to travel on their Haudenosaunee-issued passports.

© John Strohsacker/

 After a whirlwind week of interviews, politics and -- regrettably, no lacrosse -- the Iroquois Nationals left New York on Friday with what they called a moral victory.

Stuck there since Sunday on a dispute over their Iroquois Confederacy-issued passports, the Nationals were denied access to a 4 p.m. flight Friday out of John F. Kennedy Airport, as the British government refused to grant them the visas necessary to travel to the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships currently ongoing in Manchester.

“We’d rather be playing there than sitting here,” Iroquois captain Gewas Schindler told the New York Times. “It’s hard to talk about, really.”

Though the Iroquois have traveled on their tribal passports for decades, the British Consulate told them the documents did not meet new security standards, and that the United Kingdom would only honor U.S. or Canadian passports.

Beyond lacrosse, the events reignited the debate over the soverignty of Native American nations. The U.S. government first offered expedited U.S. passports, which the Iroquois refused. After conducting thorough background checks and bio scans, the State Department granted the Nationals a one-time waiver at the behest of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The U.K., which originally said such a waiver would be enough to issue visas, renegged.

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) called the situation an “international embarrassment" in an address to Congress, even calling to question the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

As the games go on across the pond, that sentiment has been echoed throughout Manchester. Altough the Iroquois passport impasse has drawn tons of publicity to these world championships, daid one member of the Team England contingent, "It's set English lacrosse back 20 years."

A small delegation of Iroquois Nationals were at Manchester University for opening ceremonies Thursday.

"It's an honor to represent our team, but being our game, it's quite tough to be here without our guys," said Iroquois assistant coach Mark Burnham, who was a member of the delegation. "Until the games are over, we're going to try to get here. But there's only so much we can do, and so much the FIL can do."

Team USA captain Ryan Powell, a native of Central New York where many Iroquois lacrosse players matriculate, played alongside some Nationals at Syracuse University.

"It's really sad it has happened like that. I feel bad for the guys that have given up so much time and sacrificed themselves. They made it out to a ton practices and training camps like ourselves to be in right frame of mind, the right shape to come over to the world championships to compete," Powell said. "Looks like they might not get an opportunity to do that, so I feel bad for them."

Germany had taken the Iroquois' former place in the Blue Division, with the Nationals holding out hope to make it to Manchester in time to compete in a lower division. The Iroquois have since capitulated and forfeited their remaining games.

Iroquois Hold Out Hope for Manchester | 07.15.10 at 9:53 a.m.

Despite the British government's refusal to issue them visas -- after the U.S. State Department provided a one-time waiver to honor their Haudenosaunee passports -- the Iroquois Nationals have not given up on their quest to make it to the FIL World Championships in Manchester.

The Nationals, who have been stuck in New York since Sunday, forfeited Thursday's opening game against host England, but remain hopeful that the British Consulate will yield in time to make their next scheduled game Saturday.

The team, which has spent at least $23,000 shifting travel plans around its passport controversy, has reserved a 4 p.m. flight Thursday out of John F. Kennedy Airport to England.

“Our plan is still to make it to the games,” Iroquois Nationals board member Denise Waterman told the Syracuse Post-Standard.”If we don’t get on a plane today, we will try again on Friday.”

England will play Germany in an exhibition game instead on Thursday.

The Iroquois have become media darlings and fodder for political circles since their holdout began Sunday. They have traveled on Iroquois Confederacy-issued passports for the last two decades, but they reportedly do not meet the stricter security measures installed by the U.S. and U.K. since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Waterman told the Post-Standard that Hollywood director James Cameron gave the Iroquois Nationals a $50,000 donation to help it pay for its unexpected extended stay in New York City.

U.S. OKs Iroquois Passports, U.K. Won't | 07/14/10 at 7:33 p.m.

After a four-day faceoff with the U.S. government ended Wednesday, the Iroquois Nationals encountered another obstacle: the British government. As a result, the team must forfeit its Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships opener against host England in Manchester on Thursday.

In its place, England will play Germany in the tournament's opening game. The England-Germany match-up will be an exhibition game, and the results will not count toward the championship.
"We are sorry that the Iroquois are still having problems getting their visas. Given the delays, we had to make a decision on the opening date," FIL spokesman Ron Balls said. "After discussions, we are pleased that Germany will participate in the opening game."

The Nationals have been grounded in New York since Sunday, when the U.S. State Department would not author written consent that would allow them to return to the country on Iroquois Confederacy-issued passports. The team's 23 players refused an offer to receive expedited U.S. passports on the principle of their sovereignty.

The British Consulate would not issue the players visas without authorization first from the U.S. That came Wednesday afternoon at the behest of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as the state department issued the Iroquois a "one-time waiver" based on the unique circumstances.

Hours later, however, the British government announced that without U.S. or Canadian passports -- for which all 23 players are eligible -- the Nationals will not be allowed entry into England.

"They're telling us: 'Go get U.S. passports or Canadian passports,'" team lawyer Tonya Gonnella Frichner told the Associated Press. "It's pretty devastating."

In a statement to the AP, the U.K. Borders Agency said: "Like all those seeking entry into the U.K., they must present a document that we recognise as valid to enable us to complete our immigration and other checks."

The Iroquois' plight has reached the U.S. House of Representatives floor, where Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.) spoke on behalf of the players Wednesday.

“These Iroquois, or Haudenosaunee, were the inventors of the game of lacrosse," Maffei said. "It would be an international embarrassment if they’re not allowed to compete.”

A spokesperson for the FIL said on the championship Web site that the Iroquois would have to forfeit Thursday's game if they did not arrive in Manchester in time. England will now play Germany in an exhibition game.

Hillary Clinton OKs Iroquois, But Not in Time | 07.14.10 at 5:17 p.m.

The Iroquois Nationals won their faceoff with the U.S. government Wednesday, but were unable to resolve their passport issue in time for their 4 p.m. flight out of JFK Airport -- forcing them to forfeit Thursday's Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships opener.

Team officials told ABC News that they must remain in New York until Thursday. An FIL spokesperson said earlier Wednesday that the Nationals not arriving in time for their 7:30 p.m. game would constitute a forfeit.

It took a "one-time only waiver" from the U.S. State Department, issued at the behest of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The team will be allowed back into the country on Iroquois Confederacy-issued passports.

However, the team officials could not secure similar clearance from Canada for their Canadian players and reciprocal visas from the British Consulate in time for their 4 p.m. flight Wednesday to Amsterdam.

From there the Iroquois were expected to fly to London and drive to Manchester for the FIL World Championships, arriving Thursday afternoon. They are scheduled to play host England at 7 p.m. Thursday.

If the Nationals do not arrive in time as expected, an FIL spokesperson said on the event Web site, they will forfeit the game. They could still qualify for the medal round, however, provided they arrive in time for their other round-robin games.

"This has not been the best preparation for a world tournament," said Oren Lyons, Iroquois team chairman and chief of the Onondaga Nation, to the Associated Press.

David Shuttleworth, Chief Executive of the English Lacrosse Association, is hopeful the Iroquois team will arrive in time for this year's event.

"It would be a terrible start to the tournament if they don't arrive," Shuttleworth said on the event site. "We really hope they get here in time. We're sympathetic to the Iroquois' position, hopefully they can get here safely and ready to play. At this stage we're hopeful they will arrive, but we will have to consider what we will do if they don't. It may be that we play another game tomorrow night. But at the moment the tournament officials are in contact with the team and they are hopeful of the team arriving."

Asked why the U.S. State Department had dropped its opposition, spokesman P.J. Crowley told the Associated Press, "There was flexibility there to grant this kind of one-time waiver given the unique circumstances of this particular trip."

The Nationals were originally scheduled to fly to Manchester on Sunday. They were told Friday that the U.S would not allow them back into the country with their Haudenosaunee passports, which they said they have used for international lacrosse competitions in the past. The FIL recognizes the Iroquois as a sovereign nation. They changed their flight to Tuesday at a reported cost of $23,000, but had not received the written consent from the U.S. guaranteeing their return that the British consulate required to issue visas.

Players, coaches and officials insisted all along that they would only travel on Haudenosaunee passports as a matter of principle and identity, a stand that has made national and global news and sparked debate in political circles.

"I am relieved that this bureaucratic technicality has been papered over and these young men can go and do what they have trained to do: play lacrosse and compete on the international scene," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., told the AP.

Iroquois Nationals Still Stuck in N.Y. | 07.14.10 at 8:30 a.m.

The Iroquois Nationals, scheduled to play host England in the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships opener Thursday in Manchester, remained grounded in New York on Tuesday due to a dispute with the U.S. State Department over the validity of their Iroquois Confederacy-issued passports.

Originally scheduled to fly out of JFK on Sunday, the players reported to the airport again Tuesday in hopes that they would be granted return visas by the British consulate, which will not honor their request without written confirmation that the U.S. will let them back in the country.

The Iroquois Nationals have traveled on their current passports for decades, and have been recognized as a sovereign nation by the FIL. They have refused an offer from U.S. officials for expedited U.S. passports as a matter of principle.

Also, Iroquois Nationals executive director Percy Abrams has said, the team would not be accepted into the competition with U.S. passports, as it is required to furnish passports from the country it represents in the world games.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Monday that the hold-up appears to come from new security measures applied to passports -- and whether the Iroquois-issued passports meet new rules applied to travel.

Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency was working to help resolve the matter with government entities including the State Department, but would not comment further.

The issue has resonated nationwide and globally in media reports and political circles (see links below). The team was expected to try again Wednesday, the latest it could fly out of New York in time for Thursday's opener.

* Why the Tribe Who Invented Lacrosse Can't Play It Here (The Independent)
* Iroquois Lax Team Still Stuck in U.S. (NPR)
* Iroquois Lacrosse Team Misses England Flight in Passport Hold-Up (CNN)
* Will Obama Recognize Indian Nation Sovereignty? (Narcosphere)
* For the Iroquois, the Only Native ( Vault)
* Iroquois Team Turned Away by Passport Dispute (New York Times)


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