For five days, the international showdown has played out in New York City and it isn't over yet. At the center of the dispute, a group of young men who were due in Great Britain Thursday to compete in an international lacrosse championship. They are from the U.S. and Canada. Many are from Central New York. But they are not Americans or Canadians. They are members of the Iroquois Confederacy, facing hurdles from governments who say they're Indian nation passports are not good enough. YNN's Bill Carey says the team fears their identity as a people is at stake.
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. -- "There has been a breakthrough with the U.S. State Department on the travel for the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team," said Oren Lyons, Onondaga Nation Faithkeeper.
The good news did not last long. Just hours later, the British said they were still not prepared to issue visas to the team, unless they were willing to travel under U.S. or Canadian passports.
For the players, that is a non-starter. For the Iroquois, words have meaning. They don't live on reservations. They live on territories. They're not Indian tribes. They are nations. And it is their standing as nations that hangs in the balance.
"A thousand years ago, they were here. They began forming international relations with the Europeans from the first contact. Some of the first treaties with the United States are made with the Haudenosaunee. You don't make a treaty with your own citizens," said Onondaga Nation attorney Joseph Heath.
For the past five days, experts in indigenous law, like Carrie Garrow, a Mohawk, have argued the position of the U.S., Canada and the U.K. is unacceptable.
"It's just outrageous that the U.S. would not acknowledge our right to return, essentially, to our own land," Garrow said.
For non-natives, it may appear to be an easy decision. Simply take the U.S. and Canadian passports offered the team and go play lacrosse. To a player, the members of the team have said "no."
"They've never made those easy decisions. And there has been a colonial policy in place since we adopted the constitution to assimilate Native Americans into the mainstream culture. The Haudenosaunee have resisted that," Heath said.
"This is our nationality. I think once I put it in that way, people start feeling they can make the connection to why we are standing so strong behind this," said Iroquois Nationals Executive Director Percy Abrams.
"That's their identity. It's much like, you know, they wouldn't say they were Russian or, you know, from any other country. We're not going to give up our right to be who we are," Garrow said.
Officials from the Iroquois Confederacy say they will continue talks with the British and Canadian governments to try to clear the final roadblocks to their travel to the U.K.