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Low-tech passports ground Iroquois lacrosse team Add to ...

The passport of the Iroquois Confederacy is a simple blue booklet, without the bar codes or electronic chips of its modern Canadian equivalent.

Yet for 33 years, customs officials around the world have quietly given it a nod, acknowledging its power for the people who carry it.

Goodwill, it turns out, is no match for a post-9/11 world.

On Wednesday, for the second time in two days, the 4 p.m. Delta Air Lines flight out of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York took off without members of the Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team.

The 47-member delegation, including nine players and a coach from Canada, were supposed to be bound for Britain, where the team is scheduled to play on Thursday night in the kick-off game of their sport's world championships.

Instead, they remained stranded in New York as of Wednesday night, embroiled in a diplomatic dispute over the validity of the low-tech passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy. The dispute has made its way to the United Nations and drawn in U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose last-minute effort to vouch for the team's U.S.-born players did not placate British officials.

"It's frustrating," said Delby Powless, from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ont., as the team travelled to the airport. "We've been driving around on a bus for three days, staying at different hotels. We just want to be getting ready to play lacrosse."

At stake is more than a tournament. Since 1977, the passports have been issued as a symbol of the Iroquois Confederacy's desire to be recognized as a sovereign nation. For many Iroquois, who refer to themselves as Haudenosaunee and whose traditional territory includes parts of Southern Ontario, Quebec, and New York State, carrying a U.S. or Canadian passport is an option they're entitled to, but one they won't accept.

"I refuse to get a Canadian passport," said Thomas Deer, a Mohawk living near Montreal. "That means I'm not Canadian … just like our brothers and sisters in the United States. They may live in the territory otherwise known as the United States or Canada, but we were Haudenosaunee before Canada was invented, and we prefer to remain Haudenosaunee."

Mr. Deer is part of a committee that has been lobbying the Canadian and U.S. governments to accept a new version of the Iroquois passport that meets international security standards, which he expects will debut later this year.

Iroquois travellers have long been able to cross international borders with the existing version of the passport, as a courtesy extended by the country they are visiting. But since the terrorist attacks in New York, Mr. Deer said passport holders have been coming up against greater resistance from immigration officials.

British officials refused this week to issue visas to Iroquois Nationals players, making it impossible for them to travel to Manchester for the tournament where they had planned to represent the Iroquois Confederacy playing a game their ancestors invented.

"We've just been rejected by the consulate. They're not going to accept our travel documents," Percy Abrams, executive chairman of the Iroquois Nationals, said Wednesday evening.

A spokeswoman for the British consulate told the Associated Press that the team would be able to travel only with documents Britain considers valid, such as a U.S. passport.

According to team officials, they were informed by the British consulate on Friday that they would not be granted visas unless the U.S. State Department could confirm that players would be allowed back into the United States on their Iroquois passports. On Tuesday, they were turned away as they tried to check in for their flight. And hours before their rescheduled flight on Wednesday, the team was feeling optimistic after Ms. Clinton agreed that, on this occasion only, players born in the United States would be allowed into the country using the Iroquois passport.

The team was seeking similar assurances from Ottawa regarding Canadian-born players when they were told Britain was refusing to issue the visas despite the U.S. waiver.

The team has received e-mails and messages of support from around the world. Hollywood director James Cameron made a $50,000 donation to help the team defray the additional expenses they have incurred in New York.

As of Wednesday night, the team was camped out in a hotel near Kennedy Airport, trying to remain positive and still hoping for a change.

"2010 is the best chance we have to win the first medal for the Iroquois," Mr. Powless said in an e-mail. "Having a medal taken away from us by an opposing team is one thing. Having it taken away by somebody in a suit is something completely different."

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