Indigenous Sovereignty Threatened by UK LaCrosse Decision

The Native American Indian confederacy of tribes known as the Iroquois Nation, or Haudenosaunee were recently denied access to the World Lacrosse Championships in England, despite their ancestors invented the sport. This brings up an important indigenous rights issue: sovereignty.

The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Nation) are rather unique in North American history, and consist of the Mohawk, Seneca, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Tuscaroras tribes, who unified into a League of Nations as early as 1450 C.E.  Their union played a pivotal role in the formation of the US Constitution.

There is a long and complicated legal history behind the status of Native American lands in the United States. The Federal Government officially considers them to be domestic dependent nations, despite the fact that they predate the arrival of Old World populations and current American governments by thousands of years.

Since 1923, a few Indian tribes have issue their own passports, including the Hopi, Western Shoshone, and Iroquois. However, increasingly strict security measures enacted during the Bush administration have started to hamper the rights of North American indigenous populations to freely travel across borders.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which also forces American citizens traveling to Canada to have a US Passport to gain re-entry (and by default, entry into Canada) is behind this latest LaCrosse case. This international accord requires that passports have to be scanned, something not present on Haudenosaunee documents, and no provisions were included to allow exceptions for native people.

This is not the first case where the freedom of mobility of tribes has been infringed upon by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Many Native Americans who used to freely cross the Arizona border to ancestral, ceremonial, and traditional lands in Mexico are now being denied access.

Tohono O’odham elder Ofelia Rivas stated in 2007, “We were all born at home with a midwife, and nobody at the time recorded our births… I have no birth certificate so how am I supposed to get a [US] passport?”

The question we are all confronted with by this latest round of travel restrictions is this: is the status of sovereignty of indigenous nations in the United States threatened?

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