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Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team Hangs In Limbo

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Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team Hangs In Limbo

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Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team Hangs In Limbo

Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team Hangs In Limbo

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The Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team is supposed to be in England competing in the lacrosse world championship, but the British government is not allowing entry because of passport and visa issues. Host Michel Martin gets an update on where the team’s travel plans stand with Tonya Gonnella Frichner, a lawyer for the team.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, our Life's a Beach summer reading series continues today with advice on how to cope, not just with one crisis, but with a total meltdown. That conversation in just a few minutes.

But first, we go to New York. That is not where the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team was hoping to be today. The team is supposed to be in England competing in the Lacrosse world championship. But the British government is not allowing entry because of passport and visa issues.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a one-time waiver to get around U.S. obstacles to the team's travel, but the British government still refused entry.

We wanted to talk more about this so we've called Tonya Gonnella Frichner. She's a board member and lawyer for the team and she joins us from a hotel at Ozone Park, Queens, New York. Welcome, thanks for joining us.

Ms. TONYA GONNELLA FRICHNER (Board Member and Lawyer, Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team): Good morning, Michel, and thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: Now, has the team been able to travel using their Iroquois Nation issued passports before? Because that's the issue here, right? They have passports issued by the Iroquois Nation, which under U.S. law is a sovereign nation. Have they been able to travel internationally before using these documents?

Ms. FRICHNER: Yes, we've traveled several times before. In fact, we've traveled for the world games to Australia, to Japan and to England on a few occasions, particularly in 1985 and in 1994. Because we are a member of the Premier League, the blue division it's called, along with the United States, England, Canada, Australia and Japan. The world games rotate in those from country to country. This year they're being hosted by Team England in Manchester, England.

MARTIN: And I think all those dates you mentioned are before 9/11, when a number of countries, particularly U.S. have tightened some of the requirements for travel, internationally requiring more documentation and so forth, like that. Did you did the team not anticipate this?

Ms. FRICHNER: Well, we had an inclination, of course, but prepared diligently for this. And I will tell you that we did the due diligence on our part in terms of working with the United Kingdom Consulate here in New York. And preparing with the State Department and doing everything that needed to be done in trying to meet every hurdle that was put in front of us, because we respect the laws and the borders of both of these sovereign nations. So we knew there would be some difficulty that we would have to come up against. We just didn't think it would be this difficult up to this last minute.

MARTIN: And I think that there are those on the outside looking in...

Ms. FRICHNER: Yes.

MARTIN: ...who might say, why not just get the U.S. or Canadian passports? Lots of people have dual citizenship. Lots of people carry more than one passport. What's the big deal if it's keeping you from participating in this tournament, in which I have to mention the Iroquois team is ranked number four by the Federation of International Lacrosse, so a very competitive team. Can you answer that?

Ms. FRICHNER: Yes, we are. Oh, well, let me answer that right directly and very directly. We are the national team of the Hodinoshoni. The Hodinoshoni is the traditional word for ourselves. And many people throughout the world know us as the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy. But we refer to ourselves as the Hodinoshoni. Now, as the national team of the Hodinoshoni, those are the travel documents that we are going to use in international competition.

And we are not going to be traveling on the passports of our competitors. It wouldn't make sense for the English to do that, for the U.S. or for team England. So it's certainly those standards are going to apply to us as well.

MARTIN: How are the team reacting to the fact that at this point it looks like you may not get there. How are you going to deal with that? Just very briefly, if you would.

Ms. FRICHNER: Well, just before we came on the air I was in a meeting about five minutes ago with the team and the staff, and they're still very positive. And let me share with you, in one hour - in exactly one hour - the opening ceremony and the games are scheduled in Manchester, England. And that opening game was supposed to be between Team England and the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team. So it's a little tough right now, but we persevere.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. FRICHNER: And the Bayville Lacrosse Club, which is located in Bayville, Long Island, is going to host us tonight. We're going to have scrimmage. We're going to have a big barbecue. All the little ones in the neighborhood are going to come and we're going to do a lacrosse clinic for the children so...

MARTIN: Okay. All right. Well, Tonya, we'll have to leave it there for now. Thank you for speaking with us.

Ms. FRICHNER: Sure. My pleasure. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Tonya Gonnella Frichner is a board member and legal adviser to the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team. She's also president and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance in New York. She joined us from New York.

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