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Gillibrand looks to help federally recognized tribal members travel between U.S.-Canada border

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

For the past 70 years, federally recognized tribe members who live near the Canadian border and elsewhere have been required to carry proof that they are Native American. A new bill introduced into legislation seeks to change that.

U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand Gillibrand (D-NY) and Steve Daines (R-MT) announced their bipartisan Tribal Border Crossing Parity Act. The legislation would allow federally recognized tribe members to move freely between the U.S. and Canada.

Currently, tribal members in the U.S., in addition to a tribal ID, are required to obtain a certificate through the Department of the Interior to show that they are at least 50% Native American. Gillibrand and Daines called the requirement outdated and discriminatory.

“I’m proud to announce the Tribal Border Crossing Parity Act alongside Senator Daines to simplify border travel for Native Americans and protect them from discrimination, detainment, and harassment. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this important bill passed,” Gillibrand said.

For decades, the requirement has confused Customs and Border Protection and Canadian border authorities. The process to obtain a certificate through DOI can often require records tribal members may not have if their ancestors were displaced.

Gillibrand said the process can be extremely challenging and complicated for tribal members. She said the requirement interferes with a tribe’s right to determine its membership, which violates tribal sovereignty.

“For far too long, our border tribal communities have had to deal with the outdated, unjust requirement to prove their heritage just to travel across the border,” Gillibrand said. “It is time to change this outdated policy and make it easier for tribal members to exercise their treaty right to travel across the border.”

If the bill becomes law, it would end the blood quantum certificates to prove identity. The legislation would allow tribal members to only need to show their tribal ID to cross the U.S.-Canada border.

The senators are joined by companion legislation in the House with support from Representatives Russ Fulcher (R-ID-01) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06). The St. Regis-Mohawk Tribe of New York, the Jay Treaty Border Alliance, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Council of Urban Indian Health all have shown support for the bill.

Jeniece Roman is a reporter with WSHU, who is interested in writing about Indigenous communities in southern New England and Long Island, New York.