Last month was full of news about the Iroquois Nationals’ futile battle to travel to the World Lacrosse Championships in England. The problem? First U.S. Homeland Security, and then British officials questioned the validity of their Haudenosaunee Confederacy passports. Now, the Associated Press’ Samantha Gross, who covered much of the original controversy, follows up with this story on the Iroquois Nations’ longtime fight for respect for have their sovereignty and identity:
ONONDAGA NATION, N.Y. (AP) — A group of young men have gathered in the longhouse for the feather dance, and the sounds of their singing filter outside, where Mohawk Chief Howard Thompson sits.
His people call him Onerekowa, the name his predecessors have borne for a thousand years. Each month, when he gathers with the 49 other chiefs from the six Haudenosaunee nations, he stands to speak in the language of his ancestors. And when the 50 come to a decision, they don’t take a majority vote. Instead, as it has for a millennium, the leaders of the Iroquois Confederacy decide by consensus.
Today Thompson awaits the start of a meeting of the Haudenosaunee Peace and Trade Committee, where tradition will grapple with the outside world. The issue is passports.
Last month, the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team missed their world championship in Britain rather than travel overseas under U.S. or Canadian passports. Their Haudenosaunee passports were deemed inadequate in a post-9/11 world — partly handwritten, lacking in high-tech security features.
Haudenosaunee Documentation Committee chairman Karl Hill peers fiercely from behind wire-rimmed glasses as he explains how the confederacy has spent upward of $1 million to bring their identification into line with the U.S. government’s new standards. For now, the handwritten Haudenosaunee passports can still be easily counterfeited, he says.
But, he adds, that would never be reason enough for the lacrosse players to travel on another nation’s document. Such a choice would be a betrayal of their national identity — an identity he says is as valid as ever, even though his people shop in American malls and watch American television and study at American colleges.
We are a nation, he insists, and it matters.
“It means that we’ve survived,” he says.
“The fact that we’re still here is a testament to our survival. Now why on earth would we give that up and call ourselves U.S. citizens?”