Earlier this month, the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team couldn’t participate in the World Lacrosse Championship because British authorities would not accept the team’s Haudenosaunee passports. In news stories and letters to the editor of The Post-Standard, many have focused on one question: Why do the Iroquois care which passport they use? Carrie Garrow, executive director of The Center for Indigenous Law, Governance & Citizenship, at Syracuse University’s College of Law, and a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, spoke with staff writer Hart Seely.
One news account described the players’ view of being forced to use U.S. passports as “an attack on their identity.” What do they mean by that?
No one would ask a Canadian to travel under a passport from Switzerland or the United States. We have a right as a nation to have our own citizenship laws. We have a right to travel under our own documents.
We’ve been recognized as nations under treaties with the United States and with Great Britain, and we’re simply asking that they continue to recognize that we are nations, and that we can identify our own citizens.
How far back does this go?
Even before the forming of the U.S. Constitution, there were treaties with Great Britain and the United States. … We predate the forming of the Constitution, which is why we are outside of its scope.
Aren’t there counter-arguments that these laws no longer apply?
Under international law, treaties are still upheld. We uphold our end of the treaties and we expect the United States to do the same. I think the U.S. would certainly articulate that they’ve broken some treaties and have a right to do so, but under international law, they are bound to uphold their word.
How central is this issue to members of the Six Nations?
It’s critical. It would be like being denied travel on a U.S. passport. It’s almost like saying, you don’t exist anymore. We have rights as a nation under international laws.
The (United Nations), under the human rights declaration, acknowledges that people have the right to travel in and out of their countries. All the sudden, you have the United States saying, “We won’t acknowledge that anymore.” It cuts to the core of who we are.
Is there a line to be drawn in the sand here?
This is a critical issue for us. … We will continue this fight. I don’t think there is really much room for giving up, because this is a very central issue to us — our identity and our right to be our own nations, and to travel freely on our own documents.
Part of this appears to be about heightened security. Can the two issues co-exist?
Absolutely. I understand the issue that you have to be able to protect your documents, to make sure that no one is using your documents fraudulently. And it’s not just the (Six Nations) Grand Council. Other nations have been working on increasing the security of their I.D. forms in order to meet new security requirements.
Until this point, (the U.S. Department of) Homeland Security had been sitting at the table and negotiating. I’m not really sure what precipitated the change, but hopefully we’ll be able to get back to the table and come to some agreement where we can travel on our own documents and increase the security of those documents, so they cannot be used fraudulently.