July 24th, 2024

Haudenosaunee Lacrosse team one step away from achieving Olympic dreams

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press on October 20, 2023.

Cody Jamieson, a professional lacrosse player from Six Nations of the Grand River, says it would be a huge achievement and an honour to represent the Haudenosaunee people at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Jamieson poses for a portrait at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, in Hagersville, Ont., Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio

The Haudenosaunee Nationals are one step away from achieving a decades-long dream.

Lacrosse was restored to the Olympics program on Monday, with men’s and women’s versions of the game to be played at the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Because lacrosse was created by the Haudenosaunee people centuries before European colonizers arrived in North America, the originators of the game play independently of Canada or the United States in international lacrosse competitions.

But there is currently no clear pathway for them to play at the Olympics.

“I think it would be a huge achievement and an honour to be representing our people on that kind of stage,” said Cody Jamieson, who has played for the Haudenosaunee Nationals in international tournaments for 20 years. “I think it would be an honour and a privilege to put the uniform on again.

“I think it would go a long way in showing people that we’re still here, that we still exist, that we are still strong and united as a people and as a sovereign nation.”

Timmia Bomberry, who like Jamieson is from Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario, said the Haudenosaunee in the Olympics would be “like a dream come true.”

“I know it’s in the air right now but as the creators of the game, it would just be amazing to be able to go and play on that world stage,” said Bomberry, who also plays for the Western University Mustangs.

The International Olympic Committee specifies that countries do not play at the quadrennial multi-sport event, but “national organizing committees” do. That wording leaves the door open for a group like the Haudenosaunee to participate.

World Lacrosse, the sport’s international governing body, has confirmed it will advocate for the Haudenosaunee with the IOC.

“Participation at the Olympic Games follows a specific structure involving the 206 National Olympic Committees,” World Lacrosse said in a statement. “World Lacrosse will finalize the LA28 qualification process with the IOC after Paris 2024, and is fully committed to collaborating with the IOC, LA28 and relevant NOCs to find creative solutions to showcase the sport’s history and enable a pathway for the Haudenosaunee to participate in the Olympics while respecting the Olympic Games framework.”

The IOC, however, is less positive about having the Haudenosaunee play as an independent organization.

“Only National Olympic Committees recognized by the IOC can enter teams for the Olympic Games in accordance with the Olympic Charter,” said an IOC spokesperson. “This means it is up to the two NOCs concerned (USA and Canada) – in coordination with World Lacrosse and the National Federations concerned – to decide if they include athletes from Haudenosaunee in their respective teams depending on the passport they hold.”

Leo Nolan, the executive director of the Haudenosaunee Nationals, said his organization is willing to co-operate with the IOC and World Lacrosse, but that they’re also responsible to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is comprised of six First Nations in Ontario, Quebec and New York: the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora.

“Whatever they put forth as the protocol that we have to follow, or any other entity that wants to join the Olympic community, we will follow,” said Nolan. “What those are yet we don’t know.

“Who knows exactly what path we may take, but there’s so many different paths that we could potentially be involved in.”

Those two requirements – a willingness to play for Canada or the U.S., and use a recognized passport – are sticking points for the Haudenosaunee.

Lacrosse was previously contested at the 1904 and 1908 Summer Olympics. Only three teams played lacrosse at the 1904 St. Louis Games, two from Canada and one from the United States. The second Canadian team, however, was called the “Mohawk Indians” and was entirely Kanien’kehá:ka players.

The modern Haudenosaunee Nationals were formed in 1983, playing for the first time in the 1990 men’s field world championship. Players are from both sides of the Canadian-American border, with the majority coming from Six Nations, about 40 kilometres southwest of Hamilton, or Onondaga Nation, outside Syracuse, N.Y.

The Haudenosaunee were unable to compete at the 2010 men’s world field championship in Manchester, England, because they attempted to travel on Haudenosaunee passports. The travel document is a form of identification used by Haudenosaunee people as an expression of their sovereignty.

Jamieson, who was part of the team that was not granted entry to the United Kingdom, stands by that decision.

“They said they would let us in on a temporary visa but as a team, we thought travelling on our own passport would be more prudent in the long run,” said Jamieson, who is from Six Nations. “We would like to travel on our own passport and not give into the narrative of ‘they’re just going to let us in this one time with a temporary visa.'”

Israel accepted the team’s passports for the 2018 world field championship, with assurances from the Canadian government that they would be allowed back into Canada. Ireland also accepted Haudenosaunee passports for the 2022 under-21 world lacrosse championship.

Jamieson said that after the 2010 Manchester incident the Haudenosaunee upgraded the passports to be biometric.

“Maybe back then they weren’t up to everybody’s standards, but now our passports are legitimate and up to code on everything,” said Jamieson. “They’re scannable, they’re digitized, they look so beautiful.

“I’m glad that everybody has been checking the boxes off and going about things the right way and trying to get this done the right way, not trying to get in through the back door or the side door. We want to go walk through the front door like every other country.”

They also almost missed out on competing in the World Games, a multi-sport event that is a stepping-stone toward the Olympics, in 2022. World Lacrosse and several national lacrosse organizations petitioned the organizers to allow the Haudenosaunee to play, with Ireland’s men’s and women’s teams voluntarily stepping aside to make space in the six-team tournaments.

“Ireland stepping back so we could go to the World Games was incredible. I couldn’t believe that they did that for us,” said Bomberry, who played for the Haudenosaunee women’s team at the World Games in Birmingham, Ala. “We do feel supported from World Lacrosse and all the other teams.

“They want us there. They know that we should be there, but it’s just being hopeful that we can help everyone else to see that too.”

The Haudenosaunee are one of the most competitive national teams in the world.

Since the men made their debut in 1990, they have finished no worse than fifth, and won bronze at the last three world field championships. They have won silver at all five men’s indoor lacrosse championships since the event was first held in 2003, with Onondaga Nation hosting in 2015.

A women’s program was introduced in 2009, finishing 11th, seventh, 12th, and eighth in the quadrennial world championship.

“The men’s team has shown for years now that they can really compete with the top teams like Canada and the USA, and to leave them out of that doesn’t seem too fair,” said Bomberry. “The girls are really developing now, we beat Canada last year, and we’re playing really well against the U.S.”

Although all the Haudenosaunee players could, as individuals, decide to play for either Canada or the U.S., at the Olympics, it’s unlikely that many would.

Jamieson, who holds dual citizenship, said he would not.

“My goal, what I strive for, has always been to bring a gold medal home to Six Nations, to Haudenosaunee country,” said Jamieson, who first donned the purple and gold in 2003. “I don’t feel like I would be beneficial for a Canadian team or a United States team.

“Even if they would have me I don’t think I would be able to put my heart and soul into it.”

Bomberry was unsure if she would represent anyone other than the Haudenosaunee at the Olympics.

“I would want to play in the Olympics, but It’s important to represent your own people,” said Bomberry. “It’s a tough question.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2023.

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