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Lacrosse Without the Iroquois Nationals is No World Celebration

The Iroquois Nationals learned of their exclusion from The World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama, in the fall.

One of the countries that was invited noticed the Iroquois Nationals weren’t on the list of competitors and were confused. It reached out to the Haudenosaunee, inadvertently breaking the news to the odd-nation-out, said Executive Director Leo Nolan.

This came as a surprise to the Iroquois Nationals, which has competed as a sovereign entity in World Lacrosse events spanning back decades, including a third-place finish at the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships in Israel.

The Iroquois Nationals program started in 1983 when they traveled to Perth, Australia, for the World Lacrosse Championship to compete against USA, Canada, England and Australia. Since then, they’ve won five silver medals at World Indoor Lacrosse Championships and two bronze medals at World Lacrosse Championships.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t consulted, weren’t asked, weren’t informed about this,” Nolan explained.

Nolan said the Iroquois Nationals asked World Lacrosse what happened, and it responded that it was following the IOC criteria.

“Since that time, we’ve made every effort in a very respectful way to make inquiries about this,” Nolan said.

“With all the social media activity that’s been going on of late, it’s really caught the attention of our colleagues at World Lacrosse, of which we are a member.”

World Lacrosse, formerly the FIL, is not a decision maker or related to The World Games 2022, which is organized by the International World Games Association (IWGA) and its rules. Recognized by the IOC, The World Games include sports or portions of sports that are not in the Olympics. They are traditionally held one year after the Summer Olympics, but the pandemic has pushed next year’s event back to 2022. Many sports have graduated from The World Games up to the Olympics, such as badminton, beach volleyball and rugby sevens. A member of the IWGA since 2013, the sport was first introduced to The World Games in 2017 in Wroclaw, Poland, through women’s lacrosse with only six teams participating: Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, Poland and the United States.

Last Wednesday, the IWGA, The World Games 2022 and World Lacrosse put out a statement that they’re collectively looking into whether or not the format should change for the event.

This could mean an eventual invitation for the Iroquois Nationals, but with two years between now and the competition, an ultimate answer is unknown. If the Iroquois Nationals remain out of The World Games, Nolan said it would be like the 1992 Olympics without The Dream Team.

“The best players in the world aren’t going to be there? What’s up with that?” Nolan asked pointedly. “We’re all about promoting lacrosse. It’s the Creator’s game. It was given to us by the Creator to share with others. I think we’re done that successfully. But this is Indigenous inspired, and it’s really important for folks to recognize where this game came from.”

“It came from us.”

This is about more than just sending a great lacrosse team to an event, though. For the Haudenosaunee and Indigenous people across North America, sending a squad to represent them at international competitions like The World Games helps put an exclamation point on their sovereignty.

“I think it’s critical to enhancing the sovereignty that 576 recognized American Indian nations have in this country and the First Nations in Canada,” he said. “Our standing in our relationship with the United States is one of government-to-government. It’s not based on race. … We really believe that this will embody what it means to be sovereign and how our communities can really take that extra step toward that kind of recognition.”

The cultural exchange the Iroquois Nationals provide others and engage with themselves at tournaments like The World Games would also be lost if they’re excluded, Dave Bray, a member of the Iroquois Nationals Board of Directors, pointed out.

Bray played lacrosse at Cornell University in the 1970s and for the Iroquois Nationals at a number of international events. He grew up in the Seneca Territory and wasn’t exposed much to the outside world beyond the U.S. and Canada, he said. But through lacrosse and the Iroquois Nationals, it opened him up to the international community and allowed him to see a bigger world with a bigger mind.

He also recalled the surprise he experienced in college at the misunderstanding of his people.

“When I went to college, I was dumbfounded,” Bray explained. “Even though I was going to an Ivy League school, people did not know what type of housing I lived in, how I traveled, and these are people from Long Island, Baltimore. It was an eye-opener for me.”

Bringing the Haudenosaunee and Native people to outsiders through the Iroquois Nationals and lacrosse is a major way to combat the ignorance.

“Just having our athletes travel and share experience, and now having athletes playing at the professional level, it brings a sharing of cultural knowledge, sharing of our game and sharing of the roots of the game,” Bray said. “You’d be missing that type of information.”

Since this news hit the public sphere, roughly 50,000 people have signed a petition to include the Iroquois Nationals in The World Games.

“You can see the genuine support worldwide has been tremendous,” Bray said. “I was astounded by having (50 thousand) people supporting us. This support is going to help us gain the recognition we need to get back into The World Games and hopefully compete in the Olympics.”

The support hasn’t stopped with fans. The Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA) released a strong statement July 26 backing the Iroquois Nationals’ inclusion, with Jason Donville, Director of CLA’s National Teams, explaining that,

“a World Championship of lacrosse, in any form, without the Haudenosaunee is not a World Championship.”

The complications with including the Iroquois Nationals in The World Games in two years has raised questions about an invitation to the 2028 Olympics. That is something that weighs on Nolan’s mind, he said.

“We’re planning on everything we need to administratively, procedural wise, like establishing a national Olympic committee, which we know is one of the requirements. It’s going to take a lot for us to be denied,” Nolan said. “We always think about future generations. We think about how our decisions today can affect seven generations out, so we’re very cautious about how we act and how we appropriately maintain these relationships with others: individuals, states, countries, the world in general. We’re very in tune to that responsibility.”

Nolan has since announced the formation of an Iroquois Nationals National Olympic Committee, a massive step in the right direction for the program’s inclusion in Los Angeles in 2028.

The World Games, and especially the Olympics, are a way away, and there is plenty of time for a solution to this situation. To Bray, there doesn’t seem to be a logical conclusion except inclusion for anyone involved.

“It’s a win-win-win situation for the Iroquois Nations, World Lacrosse and The World Games to have us there,” Bray explained. “To not have us there certainly doesn’t help anyone.”