In 2010, the UK banned the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team from attending the world lacrosse championships. As they are one of the most competitive teams in the world and the only native allowed to play abroad, the decision has sparked widespread outrage. After all, the Iroquois Nationals team competed in international competitions for nearly 30 years as a representative of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes six nations split between the United States and Canada. Worse yet, the ruling insulted the group’s Indigenous identity: the Iroquois not only invented the sport, but it is also seen as a “medicine game” offered by the Creator for personal and community healing.
Although a decade has passed, the problem that sparked the 2010 fiasco, the lack of recognition of Indigenous passports, still persists today. As representatives of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, lacrosse players wanted to use documents from their tribal nation. However, as the UK would not accept them in place of their US or Canadian passports, the team faced a tough ultimatum: sacrifice their tribal identity or miss the tournament. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s offer of temporary waivers, the team ultimately chose the latter. A similar injustice happened again in 2018 when the team faced delays in leaving Canada for a tournament in Israel.
“With this long-standing culture of Indigenous subordination, the United States discourages other countries from recognizing Indigenous passports as that of the Haudenosaunee. “
Over the centuries, the United States has consistently treated Indigenous nations as[s]», Granting a certain autonomy while preserving its dominant position. Resisting this unbalanced dynamic, the Haudenosaunee Confederation issues its own passports as “expression[s] of sovereignty. However, US law and the persistence of colonial legacies prevent these documents from being recognized. The US Indigenous passport policy reflects the country’s colonial past and present and requires legal and diplomatic remedies.
Freedom of movement has been an integral part of the identity and sovereignty of the Haudenosaunee for centuries. Indeed, since the Jay Treaty of 1794 with Great Britain, American law recognizes the sovereign status of the group. Article III of the agreement postulates that Amerindians on both sides of the border could freely “pass by land or river, into the respective territories and countries of both parties.” As U.S. courts grapple with the scope and intent of the treaty, Haudenosaunee leaders and U.S. policymakers have invoked it to treat Confederation as a “cohesive cultural and societal unit.” [unit], without being hindered by the international border.
The first Haudenosaunee passport was used in 1923, when a Cayuga statesman visited the League of Nations to promote Indigenous sovereignty. However, these documents became more common in the 1970s, making it easier for ambassadors to travel to 16 countries. Yet most countries would not accept the legitimacy of the passport because the Haudenosaunee were not an internationally recognized state. After centuries of attacks on its sovereignty by the Canadian and American governments, the Confederation viewed their passports not only as a manifestation of its distinct identity, but also as an affirmation of its legitimate political autonomy.
“The US Native Passport Policy reflects the country’s colonial past and present and requires legal and diplomatic remedies. “
The minimum recognition of Haudenosaunee passports collapsed after 9/11 when President George Bush enacted the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. Citing national security concerns, the law required U.S. citizens and non-immigrant aliens to present a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved passport when entering or leaving the country. In 2008, DHS launched the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) to meet these new rules. The WHTI has imposed several new burdens on Indigenous groups to assuage US security standards, such as requiring Nations “to provide customs officials with access to tribal registration records.” Although the WHTI was supposed to work with Indigenous groups to ensure tribal documents followed US travel rules, the program proved unsuccessful. This oversight prevented the 2010 Haudenosaunee lacrosse team from leaving the country with their own passport. The coercive WHTI changes not only invalidated a symbol of Indigenous independence, but they also forced the Haudenosaunee to spend $ 1.5 million on passport upgrades.
While the WHTI framework may help restore Indigenous sovereignty, it still positions the United States as the dominant power. With this long-standing culture of Indigenous subordination, the United States discourages other countries from recognizing Indigenous passports as that of the Haudenosaunee. This attitude perpetuates the belief that indigenous rights are inferior at best and nonexistent at worst. For example, the European Union views Indigenous travel documents as “fancy passports”, a dismissive position that is surely influenced by the position of the United States. Not only is this insulting to indigenous people, but the greater rejection of their passports and separate status has justified delays or travel bans, and by extension, exclusion from international tournaments.
The implications of these actions are powerful, preventing indigenous groups like the Haudenosaunee from asserting their independence. While it is productive to work with Indigenous leaders to address national security concerns, the United States should use its political influence to overturn its own transgressions and force more countries to recognize these documents. At the very least, the United States should reimburse indigenous groups for the costs incurred in meeting their demands. In this way, the country can move forward towards asserting sovereignty and treating Indigenous nations with the respect they deserve.