Deer: Who is the barbarian here?

The Iroquois, or the Haudenosaunee as we call ourselves, have been around for many centuries and were a developed federation of nations when the British arrived in North America. Without going into a long historical explanation at this time, we have resisted colonization up until today and will continue into the future.

We believe ourselves to be part of the natural world and, as such, part of the world community. We survive because we adjust to European contact and bend, but do not break to pressures of assimilation. That is why we still exist.

We have always maintained our sovereignty and express it in various ways. One is by issuing our own passports. This is not new to us. We have issued our own travel documents before passports were in vogue.

It is in our traditions that when we send a message with a runner or representative to another nation, we issue them a string of wampum as their credential as our spokesman and the words we send him with.

Where has our humanity gone when a piece of paper outweighs the rights of individuals when the state clearly knows who they are and are not a threat to the society?

It was the protocol of the day for the wampum carrier to stop at the edge of the foreign settlement and light a fire. The messenger would await an inquiry from one of the guards and if deemed appropriate would be ushered in to state the message contained in the wampum. This act still remains a part of our ceremony in our Condolence Ceremony today and is called “The Edge of the Forest.”

In modern times, we still issue wampum but also passports as our adjustment to today’s reality. When using our passports, we approach the state and ask permission of the state to enter their country. We do this with respect and honor. It is up to the discretion of the state to allow us in. It is a very human way to behave, like friendly neighbors.

And when we are allowed to enter, we behave with respect and discretion. We carry out our duties whether to attend a conference, address some gathering, meet government delegates, visit friends, compete in a sport, or tour the country. We do not call press conferences announcing our visit on our passports. That may embarrass our hosts and we do not do that. We are discreet and civil.

If a country denies us a visa, we just don’t go there. If we were not welcome, why would we want to go where we are not welcome? It is their loss for not meeting our people and our culture.

So when the United Kingdom denies our Iroquois Nationals entry into its country, on behalf of the people of the British Isles, we understand that we are not welcome there. So we stay home.

The United Kingdom says that we don’t have secure travel documents and this is the reality of the post-9/11 world. We suspect they are afraid that our team will beat the crap out of Team U.K. but I digress.

What happened on 9/11 was an attack on humanity; a barbarous act killing innocent people and changing the world as we knew it. There is no doubt that efforts must be made to make the world more secure.

We Mohawks can agree with that. We helped build the Twin Towers. It was our high steelworkers who put the hard work and sweat into its construction.

And our men were some of the first to help in the search and rescue at Ground Zero and stayed until there was just a hole in the ground. We are angry too. But we are not barbarians either.

The Iroquois Nationals are not terrorists. Secure documents are supposed to make it more difficult for terrorists to travel but not for innocent people. Governments are using 9/11 as an excuse to treat everyone as a threat to security. So much so that a secure document is more important than the person it represents.

Where is the humanity in the post-9/11 world?

The whole world knows who the Iroquois Nationals are and they are certainly not a threat to world security. The United States and Canada know each one of them: Where they were born, where they live, date of birth, etc.

They are not going to the United Kingdom to cause harm except perhaps to beat the U.K. team (there I go again). They are not going to claim refugee status, although they could if they feel persecuted at home for their political views.

When the U.K. team comes to America to play the Iroquois Nationals in the future, would secure travel documents make the U.K. a better team? I don’t think so.

It is astonishing that the United Kingdom would deny such a magnificent and historical sports team entry into the country over a piece of paper. Where has their humanity gone since 9/11? Don’t blame Al-Qaeda. We all have to look at ourselves. What extremists have states become?

Governments are using 9/11 as an excuse to treat everyone as a threat to security.

Where has our humanity gone when a piece of paper outweighs the rights of individuals when the state clearly knows who they are and are not a threat to the society?

Who is the barbarian now?

Let the Haudenosaunee travel on their own secure documents like they have in the past. Don’t let Al-Qaeda change this small part of the world.

Kenneth Deer is a Mohawk, secretary of the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake, an award-winning columnist, and former publisher/editor of The Eastern Door newspaper. Deer is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the U.N. Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations appointed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.