A common heart. A common spirit. A common cause.
Yesterday’s clinic here by the Iroquois National Lacrosse team was much more than a cultural exchange. For the students at Ke Kula Kaiapuni ‘o Anuenue, the Hawaiian immersion school in Palolo Valley, it was an educational experience that linked the Hawaiian sovereignty issue to the recognition problems encountered by the visitors last summer.
The Iroquois Nationals were unable to travel to England to compete in the Federations of International Lacrosse World Championships because of a document dispute. The players possess passports issued by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, a group of six nations in the U.S. and Canada. The State Department granted a one-time waiver to travel, but the United Kingdom refused to recognize the passports.
Rather than use U.S. or Canadian passports, the team — ranked fourth in the world — stood firm when defaulting its matches to underline national pride and the right to self-determination.
|U.S. Lacrosse Hawaii Chapter
Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse
England’s loss was Hawaii’s gain. Since the team had unused plane tickets, the Iroquois Nationals opted to compete in this weekend’s 20th Hawaii Invitational Tournament at Kapiolani Park as well as do a clinic for native Hawaiian youth.
"I am proud that they took a stand," 10th-grader Lopaka Keli’ikoa-Kapolo’i said. "That’s what we should do as Hawaiians — stand for our culture, stand for our rights. It was good to see that they have gained recognition."
"It was cool that their passport experience has to do with sovereignty, something that we talk about," added Maraya Valenzuela, an eighth-grader. "And the game is really fun."
Lacrosse is one of the oldest team sports in the Americas, dating to the 12th century. It played a significant role in the religious and community life of tribes, and "this is a symbolic visit, our nation to their nation," said Percy Abrams, the team’s executive director. "We have many shared experiences, like oppression, and a common heart and spirit.
"We were given a very elaborate greeting (at the University of Hawaii’s Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies), and we remarked that it was similar in spirit and protocol to our traditional greeting ceremony. It was the unification of the two groups. We were very at home."
Involved with the trip is Nike, with its N7 program, which is geared toward American Indian and aboriginal communities. Nike Lacrosse, which has partnered this year with the Hawaii Invitational, has been involved with the Iroquois Nationals since 2006, and the team will debut its new game jersey this week, its first competition since the passport problems.
"Coming to Hawaii, for this caliber of a tournament, raises awareness and kind of finishes the story for the team," said Nike N7 general manager Sam McCracken, who grew up on the Fort Peck Reservation of the Assiniboine and Sioux in Montana. "From Nike’s perspective we saw this as a great opportunity to provide access to the sport in underserved communities in the islands. What better platform is there?"
None, in the eyes of Edward Ayau, the only Hawaiian playing for Hawaii Lacrosse. The fact that the lacrosse tournament is played this time of the year is no coincidence.
"This is the time of year for the makahiki, and the tournament is held to coincide with that," Ayau said of the Hawaiian celebration that honored Lono, the god associated with agriculture, fertility, rainfall and peace. "Today was a chance for culture to be exchanged, to meet each other and share the sport. I think it gave the students some perspective to build their own self-confidence. They met a people who stood up for who they are, and I’m glad."