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Enhanced tribal IDs considered by Tulalip, Colville tribes

When the U.S. Department of Homeland Security enacted the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative June 1 tribal IDs were not on the list of acceptable forms of identification.

Thanks to the persistence of tribal leaders and organizations, tribal IDs are considered a temporary, acceptable form of ID for U.S. tribal citizens returning home from visiting Canada and Mexico.

In order for tribes to become WHTI compliant, they are required to create enhanced tribal IDs. But with no federal dollars to help implement the expensive technology, the reception has been sparse.

Out of the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington state, the Tulalip Tribes and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation are the only two that have expressed interest in the technology, said Stephanie Tennyson, deputy assistant secretary in the office of intergovernmental programs for DHS, which includes tribal affairs.

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Tulalip and Colville representatives said the high cost has kept them from moving forward in housing an ID making system on their reservations.

Tennyson said about 60 of the 563 federally recognized tribes from across the nation have expressed interest in the enhanced IDs since being notified by a letter that explained ID requirements under WHTI April 2008.

“The department had hoped that tribes would have been further down the process of getting Memorandum of Agreements in place and having them signed, and the technology out there for the enhanced tribal cards, but we just haven’t been able to get there as a whole,” she said.

Washington is the first state to introduce the WHTI compliant enhanced driver’s license/ID. It’s available to the public at a much lower cost than a U.S. Passport, and allows residents a seamless entry back into the states from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean. The enhanced tribal ID would work in a similar fashion.

Like many border state tribes, Washington’s tribal residents have family extending well into Canada, and they travel back and forth for visits, ceremonies and gatherings throughout the year.

Theresa Sheldon, a policy analyst for the Tulalip Tribes, said about two years ago Tulalip tribal leaders met with DHS officials to discuss housing a system, and outsourcing its ID making services to tribes unable to afford the technology.

The tribe was quoted $200,000 a year for a basic system, and that was just a start to the high costs associated with the technology. “As we got more and more involved with it, the more expensive everything became,” she said.

Employees involved with the ID making process would have to undergo federal background checks, and meet additional requirements in order to access the computer and ID cardstocks. “Essentially it was this intense security operation,” she said. “Wherever the cardstock is being stored it has to be caged in essentially like a jail system.”

Photo courtesy Theresa Sheldon Deborah Parker, a policy analyst for the Tulalip Tribe, is seen here using her tribal ID. She had no problems getting through security checkpoints with her tribal ID at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Tennyson said tribes can choose either the push or pull models of this technology, and has seen highest quotes coming from private vendors selling the pull model, which the Tulalip and Colville prefer. She has seen quotes starting at $50,000 a year and an additional $20,000 and higher per month to run a high speed T1 line.

“I know this is one area that the tribes have been a little bit frustrated, I will admit, because the price ranges.”

Both tribes favor the pull model, where they maintain tribal records in a chosen secure location.

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For tribes that elect to utilize the push model, the costs are lower as they push their tribal members data to the border via a secure database with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Tennyson said.“ The tribes wouldn’t have to pay for the cost of the technical requirements of the data lines that are needed and things like that.”

She said tribes have expressed concerns about the push model, ranging from possible identity theft to it being a violation of tribal sovereignty.

The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Pascua Yaqui of Arizona signed an agreement in March to switch to the enhanced tribal IDs and have elected to use the push model, Tennyson said. Negotiations with several other tribes are pending.

In order for the IDs to be WHTI compliant, she said each enhanced ID must contain a radio-frequency identification technology chip, along with other provisions, including the Real ID Act of 2005. The act was introduced by the Senate in a move to minimize the threat of terrorists from entering the U.S. Critics say the costs are too high for taxpayers and that it increases opportunities for identity theft.

The state-of-the-art tribal IDs would enable border agents on Canada’s and Mexico’s borders to “ping” data from IDs in less than a second, and as soon as cars are within 30 feet of a port of entry, said John Stensgar, elected member of Colville Tribal Business Council, and the tribe’s homeland security delegate.

For the Colville, tribal relations with border agents at the Oroville Area Port were strained, but relations are improving.

Tribal citizens had filed complaints that ranged from eagle feathers being thrown on the ground to the dismantling of sacred medicine bundles. The Colville are directly related to the people within the seven bands of the Okanagan Nation Alliance in British Columbia.

These issues prompted the tribe to work with agents to develop cultural sensitivity training, and according to an e-mail from Joanne Ferreira, CBP public affairs officer, the tribe is working with the Oroville station to develop training for agents.

“The Oroville port of entry is working with the Colville Tribe and Okanagan National Alliance for Native Cultural training. The training is anticipated to take place sometime after August 2009.”

On June 1, the tribe hosted a peaceful demonstration at the border in protest of the required use of passports for tribal members. With less than two weeks notice, about 500 people from both sides of the border attended the event.

“From what I understand from the beginning of all this, we weren’t even going to be consulted on any of these issues impacting us,” Stensgar said.

Border agents offered to support the demonstration, along with several Canadian and law enforcement agencies from both sides of the border. Stensgar said law enforcement stood by as they pulled a portion of the barbed wire fence that separates land in the Chopaka Valley owned by the Colville and Okanagan.

Stensgar said Colville leaders expressed interest in the WHTI compliant technology, but coming up with the high dollar amounts for the systems has proved insurmountable for many tribes. Similar to Tulalip, they want to provide services to tribes unable to afford the technology.

The National Congress of American Indians has approached Congress, requesting $20 million in grant money for tribes to implement the technology. But if approved, the funding may not be available until 2010.

Meanwhile, Sheldon said the technology chips away at tribal sovereignty by rendering current IDs obsolete, and allegedly violates the Jay Treaty, which allows for Natives to cross freely between the borders. She added that non-Natives lost the right to cross freely when the U.S. formed.

“The real issue is why we are going to allow them to take away our cards; our cards have been valid to cross the border for as long as we had them.”

Sheldon and Stensgar have explained the complicated process involved with any individual trying to obtain a tribal ID to DHS officials, but said they have yet to be receptive.

“Most anyone can get a Washington state enhanced driver’s license, but not anyone can get a Colville tribal ID card,” Stensgar said. “So far, they are not willing to take a look at what security this entails and what the processes are.”