The fourth-seeded Iroquois Nationals were supposed to play host-country England today at the lacrosse world championships. Instead they're taking tourist photos in Times Square and loitering outside JFK. What went wrong for the guys whose ancestors invented our most cherished sport?
The Nationals, comprising tribe members located across the U.S. and Canada, were informed last Friday that they would not be granted visas by the British consulate unless the United States would guarantee their re-entry into the country at the end of the tournament. The U.S. demurred, citing the lack of security features in the tribe's passports and referring to a 2008 "internal directive" that outlawed the use of a tribal document as a stand-in for a U.S. passport while abroad.
The 2008 directive tightened international travel restrictions; when the Nationals last traveled abroad to the world championships, which were held in Australia in 2002, their passports "didn't pose a problem."
This time around, the Americans displayed their trademark brand of "who's your daddy?" benevolence, passive-aggressively offering to help the Iroquois by expediting U.S. passports for the team. It was a diplomatic middle finger to tribal sovereignty at a time when the Iroquois have assigned particular import to their national identity. A monster S.L. Price piece about the team in Sports Illustrated notes that until last week, the tribe's biggest lax-related tempest was over its own tightened restrictions:
An imperative to include players representing all Six Nations increased political maneuvering during the Nationals' selection process, and last December—after months of tryouts—the Iroquois Traditional Council made a devastating decision: For the first time in Nationals history, a player's Native lineage would be a major issue, decided strictly through his mother. Once-acceptable adoptees, players with only small traces of Indian blood and offspring of mixed marriages involving non-Native mothers were rejected. The Nationals' midfield was gutted when five players were cut loose for reasons of lineage.
Unsurprisingly, the team declined the offer to travel under any documentation except their own. One player, Brett Bucktooth, told the Guardian that he would "rather miss the tournament than travel under a U.S. passport." And so the situation has turned into a referendum on the rights and protections of native people — and opened the floodgates to a swell of predictable attention-seeking moans from, for example, scorned Quebecois separatist frogs equating the Iroquois with the Corsicans and Basques. What, no love for the Chechens?
Hillary Clinton, having allegedly "taken a personal interest in the Iroquois team, which has many players from New York," issued a one-time waiver promising to let the team back into the United States upon its return. It appeared the biggest obstacle in the process had been hurdled, and several news outlets began reporting that the team would be boarding yesterday's flight.
But the Brits, still smarting from their disappointing losses at the World Cup, Wimbledon, and Yorktown, thumbed their noses at the waiver, deeming it an unofficial, and thus unacceptable, document. Looks like I was wrong about which white boys are the real dicks.
This isn't the first time the Iroquois have battled with the British, as the New York Daily News's Kenneth R. Bazinet is sure to remind us:
The Iroquois Confederacy has had its share of tough times — first smallpox-infected blankets delivered to the tribes of the Northeast by Lord Jeffrey Amherst and now bureaucrats at the Department of State who don't know much about the history of sport.
Congratulations, Kenneth. You left the yard.
It must be said, feeling bad for the Iroquois is a little like feeling bad for the lady who arrives at airport security with five bags 20 minutes before her flight is set to take off and then begs and pleads to cut the line. Where she has her giant bottles of shampoo, the Iroquois Nationals have their hand-lettered passports and their last-minute scram. That ain't the deal, pals. You couldn't have figured all this stuff out, like, a few weeks ago?
A few weeks ago, in fact, they were still finalizing the roster. The team only announced its lineup on June 20 and didn't hold a training camp until the first week of July, a schedule that "didn't allow newly appointed general Ansley Jemison much time to arrange airline tickets and visas," according to Price.
Nevertheless, high-level diplomats and politicians have rallied behind the team, and even higher-level powers like James Cameron have demonstrated interest: the director, an avowed advocate of various indigenous peoples, contributed $50,000 to defray flight-change and hotel costs. According to The New York Times, this covers only two days' worth of mounting expenses.
After yesterday's eleventh-hour stomach punch (actually, this being the U.K., it was probably more like a glassing), the Iroquois team was forced to forfeit today's opening round game against England. Minutes ago, it was announced that the team will be demoted to the lesser Red Division; Germany got the nod to move up and take its place in the top Blue Division group. With their next game scheduled for Saturday, it remains unclear if the Nationals will even make it to England at all. But they have not yet given up the fight, even as travel costs climb and frustrations stack up.
Let's just hope someone can save them: The poor guys, at this point, are cooped up in a dreary airport hotel and reduced to watching Adam Sandler new releases. No one, international diplomatic rules and regulations notwithstanding, should be forced to live like that.