NEW YORK | The Iroquois helped invent lacrosse, but their team might not travel to England for the sport's world championship this year because of a dispute over the validity of their passports.
The 23 players have passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy, a group of six Indian nations overseeing land that stretches from upstate New York into Ontario, Canada.
The U.S. government says it will only let players back into the country if they have U.S. passports, a team official said. The British government, meanwhile, won't give the players visas if they cannot guarantee they'll be allowed to go home, the official said.
Iroquois team members born within U.S. borders have been offered U.S. passports, but the players refuse to carry them, because they see the government-issued documents as an attack on their identity, said Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a member of the Onondaga Nation who works with the team.
"It's about sovereignty, citizenship and self-identification," said Miss Frichner, who also is the North American Regional Representative to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
On Monday evening, she said the situation "has loosened up a bit with the State Department" and she was "feeling more positive that the White House will intervene." She said she could not elaborate.
The Iroquois have used their own passports in the past, but State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the new dispute can be traced to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which went into effect last year. The new rules require, among other things, that Americans carry passports or high-tech documents to cross the country's borders.
"Since they last traveled on their own passports, the requirements in terms of the kind of documents that are necessary to facilitate travel within and outside the hemisphere have changed," Mr. Crowley said. "We are trying to help them get the appropriate travel documents so they can travel to this tournament."
Tribes' efforts to meet the new security requirements have been ongoing. A group of American Indian leaders requested funding from the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 to develop cards that would comply with the new rules, according to an agency document. Idaho's Kootenai tribe and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agreed last year to develop the first enhanced tribal card acceptable under the new guidelines.
Today, the Iroquois team is ranked No. 4 by the Federation of International Lacrosse and represents the Haudenosaunee — an Iroquois Confederacy of the Oneida, Seneca, Mohawk, Tuscarora, Cayuga and Onondaga nations.