Monday, June 15, 2009

Blackfeet enhancing IDs for border crossings

Tribune Staff Writer

The Blackfeet Tribe is one of a group of tribes developing enhanced tribal identification cards to get in line with the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

The initiative — which went into effect June 1 — requires people crossing the U.S.-Canada border to show a passport or enhanced driver's license.

Homeland Security officials are allowing Native Americans to continue using their tribal-issued photo ID cards to cross the border while tribes develop their own enhanced cards.

Homeland Security will allow this for a "modest, but reasonable transition period," according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians, or NCAI.

"It would take some time to develop the technology with each of the tribes having their own cards," said Mike Milne, press officer for several nearby ports of entries.

Sweetgrass Port Director Larry Overcast said he met with the Blackfeet Tribe in May to discuss the issue and the tribe seemed to be interested in developing some form of an enhanced tribal ID card, among other options.

"All of our officers are aware that their photo IDs will be fine," Overcast said.

The Blackfeet Indian Reservation borders Canada to the north.

In some states, the enhanced IDs feature a flag denoting citizenship and different barcodes. Milne said the enhanced tribal IDs may feature radio frequency technology so the cards would be read more efficiently.

Only a handful of tribes have agreed to develop their own enhanced ID system, including the Blackfeet and the Kootenai Tribe in Idaho, Milne said.

Blackfeet Business Council Chairman Willie Sharp Jr. said tribal employees are attending a NCAI conference to discuss enhanced IDs. One of Sharp's main concerns in developing a new system is maintaining a high standard of how the tribe certifies people as tribal members.

Sharp said the upgrade process can be long and that the cost of developing the system falls on the tribe.

"But we hope we can get some funds from Homeland Security or other means," Sharp said.

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