Vi Waln: Tribal identification cards deserve recognition everywhere

We embark on a new decade this week with the advent of 2011. Many people traditionally begin their new year by making some kind of personal resolution. Most resolutions are about healthy new beginnings; like working out to slim down, abstaining from heavy alcohol use, putting away the cigarettes or making a conscious effort to eat the right foods.

Whatever your resolution is I hope it is one that will help you to become a healthier person in all areas of your life, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In any case, many of us see January 1st not only as beginning another year, month or decade, but also as a time for a new start.

I don’t think it is too much to ask for when I state that one new policy I want to see implemented nationwide in the year 2011 is the acceptance of tribally issued identification cards. It is time for all of the businesses located both on and off the Indian reservations across this country to recognize our tribal IDs as valid forms of personal identification.

Currently, those of you who hold tribal identification cards know you cannot use them in many places to cash a check or make a purchase requiring proof of age. In my opinion, it is up to the federal, state and tribally elected leaders in our respective areas to change this policy.

Tribal governments are supposedly sovereign governments. So why aren’t the documents issued by the tribal governments accepted in the same way as federal or state issued identification cards?

Oh there are many, many excuses given for this and we have heard all of them. I think the biggest excuse given is the businesses can’t verify our tribal identification cards as being “legitimate.” I cannot believe they actually think we are all at home manufacturing fake identification cards bearing our tribal flag.

Many of you regularly spend your money shopping at any one of the many stores owned by the giant Walmart Corporation. I know this because I see you at the Wally World stores in Rapid City, Pierre and Chadron. You all know our money is just as good there as anyone holding a South Dakota driver license. Why isn’t our tribal ID just as good as our money? In my opinion, it is all about discrimination.

We are not discriminated against when we arrive at an airport to get on an airplane. Those of us who have tribal identification cards can use them to board a domestic flight. It wouldn’t be hard for the rest of the country to follow this lead as there was a time in the recent past when the major airlines would not accept a tribal ID as a legitimate government issued form of identification.

Also, I remember the last time crossed the border into Mexico. We had to prove our identity when we crossed back over into the United States. Since I did not have a passport, I used my tribal identification card to prove I was a citizen. It was a perfectly acceptable form of identification to the U.S.-Mexican border officials.

So why can’t I use the same tribal identification card to cash a check at a certain bank? It proves to me that as a tribal nation we aren’t really sovereign at all to some businesses located in our own country. Our money is good everywhere but our tribal identification cards are not.

Also, when our young people wish to join the military they can do so if they have a tribal identification card. In a letter dated April 9, 2008, MSGT Jeffery L. Loeffler wrote: “Basically stated, if a young man or woman produced a tribal identification card and wanted to join the United States Marine Corps, after determining whether he is mentally, morally and physically qualified he would be enlisted the same as anyone else with a drivers license.”

I checked the South Dakota Department of Public Safety website to see what documents are acceptable to confirm one’s identity when applying for a driver license. I did not see tribal identification cards listed. The State of South Dakota will accept a Certificate of Naturalization, a Certificate of Citizenship, Valid unexpired permanent resident card, or a foreign passport with a valid unexpired U.S. Visa as acceptable but they will not accept a tribally issued identification card.

Most of us consider ourselves tribal members first. We are often referred to as the FIRST AMERICANS. It seems as though the identification cards issued by our tribal offices would be just as authentic as a certificate of citizenship. But here in South Dakota many of us who live on Indian reservations are often treated the same way we were during the 17th century.

Now don’t get me wrong folks. There are many non-Indians in South Dakota who are very good people. Some of these good non-Indian people currently serve as legislators in the State Capital Building. I know they work hard to represent all of us.

We just had a national election. I encourage all of our federal, state and tribally elected officials to devote some of their time working on legislation that will allow us to use our tribal ID cards everywhere. We depend on our elected officials for help with issues such as this.

In addition, on December 28, 2010 I read an online editorial in the Rapid City Journal about newly elected Governor Dennis Daugaard creating “a new cabinet-level post.” I am anxious to see who will be appointed as “Secretary of Tribal Affairs.” Most of us hope it will be a member of a tribe right here in South Dakota, preferable one who will work hard to represent all the nine tribes located in this state.

Finally, I hope one of the first important issues that the new South Dakota Secretary of Tribal Affairs tackles is advocating for the state-wide recognition of tribally issued cards as an authentic means of identification.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at

Related Stories:
Vi Waln: December a difficult month for tribes in the Great Plains (12/21)
Vi Waln: Mexico's Indigenous people aim to protect sacred sites (12/13)
Vi Waln: Indian Country must look within to address youth suicide (12/6)
Vi Waln: Lakota people encounter threats to their water source (11/29)
Vi Waln: Lakota of South Dakota remain invisible in many ways (11/24)

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