In Review: ‘Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation'

Dustin Skenandore

dustin skenandore | yl voice | aug. 2018

The documentary follows the return of the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team to the world stage after their inability to participate in the 2010 world championship games in England. This was due to passport issues, which the team is facing again eight years later.

The film is thoroughly enjoyable, finding a good balance between interview commentary and narration of the lacrosse games. The film features commentary by a wide variety of people, including various lacrosse authorities and players Al Gore, Jim Brown, Billy Mills, Bill Belichick and others.

It would be incomplete to say that this film is only about lacrosse. It is about much more than that. This is about an indigenous people carving out an international identity and expressing sovereignty. To quote Leo Nolan, “having the opportunity to participate in the Nationals organization is really a key to how we see our existence as a sovereign people in this country, and it transcends to the other 565 Indian nations that are recognized by the federal government to push forward indigenous sovereignty not only in this country but around the world.”

It is important to recognize that a great many of the issues and struggles brought up in “Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation” have gone unresolved. Most glaringly, before the Federation of International Lacrosse's World Lacrosse Championship games in 2018, the Canadian government refused or failed to issue a letter guaranteeing that the Iroquois Passport could be used to leave the country. This isn't the first time the Canadian government found issue with the Iroquois Passport. Border officials have referred to the passport as a so-called “fantasy document,” putting it in a category with satirical “Conch Republic” passports. Many Iroquois find this to be a dehumanizing extension of the Doctrine of Discovery, which was itself based on Pope Alexander VI's Bulls of Donation. This Doctrine, a relic of a bygone era, has been cited as recently as 2005, in Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's opinion in City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York.

The central theme of “Spirit Game” is this: It is about more than just the game. It was about more than just the game when Jackie Robinson played baseball. It was about more than just the game when Cassius Clay, and later, Muhammad Ali, boxed. It was about more than just the game when Arthur Ashe played tennis. And it is about more than just the game when the Iroquois Nationals play lacrosse.

For a chance to see a screening of this film, join us at the Oneida Nation Cultural Heritage Amphitheatre, located near 3703 Hillcrest Drive, on August 24 at 8:30 p.m. This screening is made possible thanks to funding by the Oneida Nation Community Education Center, Oneida Nation Tourism and a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

Dustin Skenandore is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University and currently works with the Oneida Nation Arts Program and the Oneida Nation Community Education Center.

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