By Lyle Hill
Lacrosse has always been more than just a game for the Iroquois people, it is medicine. It begins with the little ones who are just learning the game and later on in life they will find out what the game means to themselves and their culture.
In recent years the game has grown to a nationally televised sport and this year’s World Championship will see 14 games televised on ESPNU+ (unfortunately unavailable to stream in Canada) in Netanya, Israel. The world championship offers Team Iroquois a rare opportunity to step out onto the world stage and represent themselves as a sovereign nation, it is an act of resistance against ongoing colonialism and a show of strength and resiliency and that the Iroquois nation is still strong in its spirit and pride.
On July 4 a campaign called the Palestine Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) posted an open letter to the Iroquois Nationals. In the letter the group asked the Iroquois Nationals to withdraw from the tournament and compared the Israeli occupation of historical and sacred Palestine land to the ongoing struggles of the Iroquois. The campaign is a part of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement or BDS. According to their website (bdsmovement.net) Israel uses culture as propaganda to whitewash and justify Israeli occupation and settler colonialism of Palestine land.
The Israeli-Palestine conflict largely began in early twentieth century when an Israeli-born population fled from Europe and wanted to establish a homeland on the now contested land. Both countries can date their occupancy back thousands of years and thus, the conflict began. Israeli occupation and military presence in the area has ultimately kept the Palestine people under occupation despite making every effort possible to free themselves from occupancy.
After a failed United Nations plan to divide up the land between the two nations led to several wars which led to where the country lines now sit, there is little hope for a diplomatic solution. However, whereas the politicians are hopeful, the people are still suffering. Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homelands and hundreds of thousands in casualties that linger into the millions are each the result of this settler occupation. There are camps on the borders of Palestine where thousands live in the worst conditions imaginable, under constant threat of attack.
This would have been an opportunity to stand with another nation who is under settler occupation, to lend a hand to another nation who has to fight for recognition for their struggles, and to form a friendship in struggle as a show of strength on a national stage to say that a wrong has been committed and we as nations will not stand for it.
However, another familiar story emerged.
On July 10 the Iroquois Nationals team attempted to depart from the Toronto International Airport for the tournament in Israel, but were delayed due to a miscommunication between Israeli and Canadian officials. The delay showed shades of 2010 when the Nationals team was denied entry to Britain for the world championships in Manchester because the governments would not recognize Haudenosaunee passports.
This delay made it clear that the presence of the Iroquois Nationals at the World Championship in Israel was necessary. By adhering to the Palestine’s request for withdrawal, the Iroquois would miss out on an opportunity to show sovereignty and to stand up against ongoing colonialism and once again assert pride and honour for their nation. By attending the tournament in Israel, the Iroquois have an opportunity to bring awareness to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and their similar struggles, to be recognized on the world stage and hopefully bring some healing to the land with the medicine game.
A few players have opted out from joining the team in Israel, deciding to not be used as propaganda against an occupied people. Elders have voiced their concerns over the presence of the Iroquois Nationals at the tournament as well. Though the team has released statements and communities have shown their support for the Iroquois Nationals, the controversy still lingers over the tournament.
There is a great deal of history on both sides of the conversation.
The game itself is embedded into history, our history.
Someday, maybe, someone will look back on this tournament and only they will be able to judge whether it was right or not to attend the tournament. On July 12, the Iroquois Nationals played their first game of the tournament against the USA, losing 9-17. The tournament will continue to run until this coming Saturday, on July 21.