The Navajo Office of Vital Records on Nov. 11 will begin issuing basic ID cards to all tribal members.
The cards, designed to boost convenience, security and privacy for enrolled members of the tribe, will be issued to 100 randomly selected people during a test run of the program, said Sherrick Roanhorse, chief of staff for Navajo President Ben Shelly.
"This is a huge process, a huge step for the Navajo Nation," Roanhorse said. The tribe has pushed for the creation of an ID card for the last decade.
The cards are expected to make it easier for Navajo citizens to access the rights and opportunities already granted to them, like traveling, seeking health care or applying for jobs that advertise under the Navajo Preference in Employment Act.
Tribes increasingly are issuing cards to members both to offer easier identification of American Indians and to streamline affairs with outside agencies. The Transportation Security Administration, for example, accepts tribal identification cards from individuals boarding domestic flights.
After the initial test run, the Nation plans to issue identification cards from all five agencies on the 27,000-square-mile reservation.
The card will effectively replace Certificates of Indian Blood, which verify individuals' blood quantum and identify them as Navajo citizens.
"It's the card version of the CIB (Certificate of Indian Blood)," Roanhorse said of the card. "That old green paper, the Certificate of Indian Blood, that's not sufficient for this day and age."
The Navajo Nation recognizes as tribal members those individuals who have at least one-fourth Navajo blood quantum, can trace ancestry of a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent to the Indian Census roll from 1884 to 1940 and demonstrate citizenship in the tribe.
The vertical ID card will verify an individual's membership in the tribe. The card includes the holder's name, birth date, photo and Certificate of Indian Blood number. Cards are valid for four years.
Certificates of Indian Blood, which lacked photo identification, were easily forged, said Tom Ranger, director of the Navajo Division of Human Resources. The new ID cards will provide better security and hold the Navajo people to a higher standard.
The cards "define a sense of being a member of the Navajo Nation, a sense of pride and ownership," Ranger said. "It's a statement toward sovereignty and helps us get over the cases of mistaken identity."
By introducing tribal identification cards, the Navajo Nation is following after a handful of other tribes, such as the Pascua Yaqui tribe in Tucson.
President Shelly visited the Pascua Yaqui in August to discuss the process of issuing cards.
"We are interested in having one ID card for tribal citizenship or for a person's medical history and travel purposes allowing us to go into Canada and Mexico," Shelly said in a prepared statement. "It's a priority for our administration, it could help us have an accurate count of our Navajo people."
The Department of Homeland Security in June approved an enhanced ID card for the Pascua Yaqui tribe for use as proof of citizenship and for travel to bordering countries. But the department also cautioned that it could take 18 months before the Navajo Nation could offer similar, enhanced cards recognized by all 50 states.
The Nation decided to move forward with basic ID cards while continuing negotiations for enhanced cards under a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Homeland Security.
The enhanced version of the card will allow individuals to tap into vast resources of digital data, such as medical records accessible at the swipe of a card at any Indian Health Service clinic.
"In essence, all we're doing now is photo ID cards," Ranger said. "But we want to replace the Certificates of Indian Blood and hold the ID process to higher standards so when we're ready to go to Homeland Security we have everything in place."
Although based on the Pascua Yaqui effort, the Navajo Nation's initiative to produce ID cards is happening on a much larger scale.
The Pascua Yaqui tribe has a population of less than 4,000 people. More than 300,000 individuals are enrolled members of the Navajo Nation, and many of those people live in isolated areas of the reservation.
Many elderly Navajo citizens also lack birth certificates or other proof of their dates of birth or U.S. citizenship. The tribe's ID card program will help all elders get the right paperwork to prove who they are, Roanhorse said.
"Our land is unique," he said. "We have huge areas that are rural. Homeland Security wants to see us identify all our members."
Startup costs for the widespread initiative are minimal, Roanhorse said. The tribe has spent $15,000 for contract services to start issuing the cards this month.
The tribe will continue to update its citizens about when and where to apply for cards.
Ranger anticipates the process will be open to all citizens by December, and that within the first year, as many as 40,000 people will have cards.
For more information, visit www.yournationyourid.com