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Blackfeet take step toward high-tech identification cards

BROWNING, Mont. - The Blackfeet Nation will use advanced technology to allow tribal members to move more freely between Canada and the United States.

The Blackfeet Reservation is on the Canadian border; many tribal members live in Canada and frequently cross the border to visit family and attend cultural and ceremonial events. Border crossing is more complicated now than in the past.

The two-dimensional VSCode, a trademark label of Veritec Inc., will use biometric technology and store identification information from fingerprints to photos to any identifiers the nation requests on a card that will be read by scanners, readers and cameras.

The technology uses a coded matrix for storing medical, criminal and any other information the Blackfeet chose to have placed on the card.

The new coding system is foolproof, Veritec officials claim, so identity theft and fraud are virtually not possible with this system.

''We are impressed with the amount of information that can be put on a card. We have IHS issues as well and medical history could be put on to it. If there is a diabetic in Canada, the drugs they need would identify this,'' said Rodney Gervais, tribal council member with the Blackfeet Nation.

The Blackfeet have three groups of relatives in Canada and moving back and forth across the border is sometimes difficult. The nation has hopes, Gervais said, that this ID card system will remove the barriers so tribal members can move freely across the border.

The Blackfeet had been working on designing an ID that would act as a passport with Canada, and this VSCode system will fulfill that need. With the Blackfeet-designed system, there was some resistance from the Immigration agencies, but the Blackfeet hired Lamar and Associates to consult on lawlessness on the reservation and the Veritec system was introduced to the Blackfeet through Lamar.

Lamar and Associates were assisting with ID methods for use on other borders. The 2-D VSCode ID card exceeds U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service criteria.

''We knew we would run into obstacles with the government, so we thought if we use a company that has more technology than the government, we would be approved,'' Gervais said.

Before the system is put into use, the federal government and the Canadian government must add their approval. Congressional members have been updated on the system and some, Gervais said, are supportive of the plan.

''Since Immigration doesn't know what the final laws will be, everybody is kind of in a posture of waiting for a response. We thought we would be in a better position with something that exceeds their expectations,'' Gervais said.

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The Canadian government may be a formidable obstacle. Gervais said the Canadians do not have a good history of dealing with the tribes and the government is continually challenging the tribes.

''We try to be a step ahead of them,'' Gervais said.

''They will find a reason why we couldn't do this, we don't see how. We are hearing that this ID is more advanced than theirs,'' he said.

''If the government doesn't approve we will not be surprised. We will go back and find out what we have to do and look at what we are confronted with. This is a step in the right direction.''

One of the positives for approval is the fact that the U.S. government is looking at the same ID system and a prototype is being prepared.

The Blackfeet have also moved forward to create a tribal passport and all of that information could be placed on the 2-D VSCode ID card.

The Blackfeet want to create their own border with Canada and this ID system may be a step toward establishing it.

''The Blackfeet Nation's 15,873 members will be the first in the United States to be able to identify, without any doubt, their people and who they say they are,'' said Van Tran, CEO of Veritec Inc.

''The tribal leaders should be commended for their truly historic foresight to know they are opening the door for what we believe to be the best counterterrorism, identity-theft solution possible; and hopefully, other border tribes and states will follow suit soon,'' she said.

Tribes across the nation have been in contact with the Blackfeet to learn how the system will function and to learn what obstacles took place prior to implementation.

''The fact we are the first in the nation is not only exciting, but also a testament to our desire to help our people take a big step regarding border issues, and set an example for the rest of the country and on both borders,'' said Wanda Glaze, Blackfeet enrollment director.

The ID cards are inexpensive; however, the equipment needed to code and decode the cards is expensive. The cost will be defrayed by the Blackfeet.

''Hopefully they [the governments] can get it together and communicate with each other and process these IDs,'' Gervais said.