Indigenous

Supporters challenge Iroquois Nationals' exclusion from 2022 World Games

The Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team say the decision to not be included in the 2022 World Games is an 'indicator of the challenges to come.'

‘This is more than a game — it’s our heritage, our history, our medicine and our sovereignty': Leo Nolan

Iroquois Nationals are the only team representing an Indigenous nation sanctioned to play internationally. (CBC)

The Iroquois Nationals, which represents the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in international field lacrosse, say they've been excluded from the upcoming World Games.

The eleventh edition of the World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama in July 2022 with 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries anticipated to take part.

"Our players, supports and staff are working tirelessly towards realizing your dream to play our game on the world's biggest stage. Every voice of support is welcome as we work toward the goal of bringing our game to the world," said Leo Nolan, executive director of the organization that oversees the team and its development group in a statement.

"This is more than a game — it's our heritage, our history, our medicine and our sovereignty."

The Haudenosaunee — a confederacy of six First Nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora Nations — invented lacrosse. They call it a medicine game as a gift from the Creator, to be played for his enjoyment and for healing.

The Iroquois Nationals is recognized as a full member of World Lacrosse (formerly the Federation of International Lacrosse).

Qualifications for the World Games were based primarily on final placement in 2017 women's and 2018 men's World championships organized by World Lacrosse. The Iroquois Nationals are ranked third, but are not eligible to compete in the games.

In a statement published on Twitter, World Lacrosse stated that it "doesn't determine the eligibility criteria" for the World Games.

"Unfortunately, the Iroquois Nationals, as was the case in the 2017 World Games in Poland, do not meet the current eligibility criteria as established by the World Games," the statement said.

The International World Games Association didn't respond to a request for comment from CBC News.

It's not the first time the team's sovereignty came up as an issue competing in international competitions. In 2018, the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team faced travel delays on their way to compete in the World Lacrosse Championships in Israel while travelling on Haudenosaunee Confederacy passports.

In 2010, they were denied entry into the United Kingdom based on their passports.

Players for the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team faced delays travelling with Haudenosaunee Confederacy passports on their way to the World Lacrosse Championships in Israel in 2018. (Iroquois Nationals)

Lyle Thompson, a professional lacrosse player with the Georgia Swarm of the National Lacrosse League, has played with the Iroquois Nationals in a number of international competitions including the 2014 World Lacrosse Championship, the 2015 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship and the 2018 World Lacrosse Championship in Israel.

He took to Twitter this week to share his disappointment with the decision.

A petition circulating calling to support the team has garnered over 15,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon. The petition calls on other states to offer support and refuse to participate in the World Games. US Lacrosse issued a statement Friday. 

"US Lacrosse stands in solidarity with the Iroquois Nationals, we extend our hand in offering to assist them and international governing bodies of sport to forge pathways that enable their inclusion, and we encourage the global lacrosse community to come together in support of our Haudenosaunee allies."

A spokesperson for the Canadian Lacrosse Association said it will be issuing a statement Monday.

About the Author

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka from Kahnawake. She works in CBC's Indigenous unit based in Montreal. Email her at jessica.deer@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @Kanhehsiio.

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