As usual, it is about the papers again.
The men, mostly those white men - also again, also as usual - have official papers upon which they have written their rules and their laws and their treaties. They are very sorry, but it is all there on the papers.
The Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy have papers, too, but those are no good. It is a shame and everyone is very sorry, but those papers are meaningless. Please stop showing us your quaint, useless papers.
The Iroquois, who were among the inventors of the game of lacrosse, perhaps as far back as 1,000 years ago, were invited to compete for the fourth straight time in the quadrennial world championships, currently being held in Manchester, England.
The inclusion of the Iroquois Nationals is not merely a ceremonial nod to the past. The Nationals finished fourth in the three previous competitions and are, in fact, ranked fourth in the world.
Unfortunately, the passports from their sovereign nation, issued by Haudenosaunee, the native word for the Iroquois Confederacy, do not contain the proper radio-frequency identification chips. The passports, in fact, are just made of paper, if you can imagine that.
The Iroquois have apparently not kept up with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative which went into effect last year. Travelers who wish to leave and reenter the United States and Canada must have the right kind of passports and security devices. As mentioned before, the Iroquois just have pieces of paper and those are no good.
The U.S. Department of State punted this flaming political problem into the lap of the Department of Homeland Security, where it stayed for a few days, no doubt after having its shoes removed before being properly screened, wanded, and patted down.
There is a great need for Homeland Security, of course, but that is not a concept that needs to be explained to American Indians. The Iroquois homeland once stretched across most of New York State and into Canada. The Oneida, Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga, and Onondaga tribes, along with others who formed the Iroquois nation, built their houses where they chose and they hunted, farmed, and fished where they pleased.
Sometime in the 17th century, a French missionary watched the Iroquois play a game of their own invention in which, 100 players to a side, on a field that could be miles long, the Indians passed a round object back and forth using forked sticks with weaving between the forks. The missionary wrote about what he saw and called the game "la crosse." As was the habit of Europeans, he didn't really care that much what the Iroquois called it.
Having waited long enough for the Homeland Security people to come back from lunch, the State Department and, more specifically, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, went into action. The Iroquois had a choice. They could take U.S. or Canadian passports, which would solve everything, or they could merely take a one-time waiver and promise to straighten out their worthless pieces of paper before the next world championships. The Iroquois were not particularly interested in becoming citizens of a country that systematically destroyed their way of life, so they went for what was behind Door No. 2 and took the waiver.
Well, that settled that, and the Iroquois were all set to travel, until the English cleared their throats and said, "Not bloody likely," or something of the sort.
The United Kingdom was not sufficiently assured that the United States would allow the Iroquois players, coaches and family members - a traveling party of 43 - to reenter the United States after the tournament ended. The English have pieces of paper, too, and they like to abide by them. There may well be thousands of immigrants, many from their far-flung former colonies, now living in British cities plotting destruction and unrest on a daily basis, but the English are not going to accept the possibility of having an American Indian lacrosse team on their hands as well.
That is how things stood on Thursday as play began in the world championships and the Iroquois Nationals forfeited their opening game in round-robin play. After a break in the schedule, the Iroquois are scheduled to play four more games beginning Saturday. The elimination games follow, leading to the championship game July 24.
There is hope that the Iroquois will still get to the tournament in time to play the rest of their games. If the United States promises, cross-its-heart, to let the team come back, and if England can remove its bureaucratic head from its stuffy posterior, there is a chance the Nationals will be able to once again proudly represent their people.
Many pieces of paper are in the way, however, and will have to be moved. Those pieces of paper are good ones. They have meaning and are worth something. The Iroquois are sad about all this, but they aren't surprised to learn that their own papers don't count for very much. They have heard that a time or two before.