I’ve watched with great interest and emotion this week as members of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team were denied entry to Britain to play in an international lacrosse tournament over a passport dispute. The 23 members of the Iroquois Nationals – whose ancestors (and mine) helped invent the sport refused to use U.S. or Canadian passports and the U.K. will not recognize the ones issued by the Iroquois Confederacy. Click here for the full article on Forbes.com.
The controversy over Iroquois team strikes an intensely personal note. On this blog I’m exploring my family’s journey to reclaim our Mohawk rights (Mohawk are part of the Iroquois Confederacy) which my mother sold to the Canadian government in the 1980s. Click here for the full story, called The Indian Thing, on how that was possible and why she sold her native rights.
Many who viewed my earlier post said they felt my own perspective was missing from my family’s discussion of our Mohawk heritage. So recently my friend Robb Davis, an expert in participatory learning, took the time to interview me.
Out of that interview (among so MANY things) came the realization that while my sister has reclaimed her rights and other siblings are in the midst of applying, I’ve been holding back on going through the process because I am outraged that such a process even exists. What right does ANY government have to tell me whether I am or am not Mohawk? It is a terrifying thought – and the fact that my mother was able to sell our rights under a very destructive Canadian policy has always struck me as nothing less than diabolical.
How can our identities be so fragile? So vulnerable? How can I be called Mohawk one day and white the next ? Then thirty years later how is it possible that I will be white one day and Mohawk the next? Just because I’ve filed some papers. Doesn’t my application just confirm that I agree the State still defines who and what I am ?
I know, I know – the State defines who is a person when we are born. It’s the same when we are issued a birth certificate, social security cards, passports, when we take the census. I work with refugees – people who are not recognized by any government – so are confined, imprisoned really. All the more reason I cannot reconcile this. Just as the Iroquois soccer team probably cannot reconcile that their tribal papers hold no sway on an international stage (and possibly on the domestic front as well).
So I am sitting with The Indian Thing and my application for now… and proud of my Iroquois brothers for the sacrifice they’ve just made to bring attention to these very important questions.
Below is the rough cut video of Robb and I listening together to my mother and sister’s interview about our Mohawk rights. You can tell it’s an intense journey. Over the remainder of the summer I’ll be editing the companion audio interview which contains more insight (Robb is literally a professional listener). I’ll post that here in its finished form. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these initial musings.
Music: Creative Commons License: Attribute/Not-for-Profit/Share Alike Diablo Swing Orchestra/Heroines