Borders, Identification, and Legalities: The U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

21 12 2007

Thanu Yakupitiyage at Race Wire, the blog companion to Colorlines magazine, has an interesting post on the impact of the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative on Native Americans. Is it just me or does the program’s name, whether intended or not, seem to connote 19th Century territorial expansion?

The U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which is upping border security in 2008 by requiring all U.S. citizens to provide drivers licenses, birth certificates, and passports to reenter the country, is leaving native people anxious and worried. Native tribes on the Southwest and Northern borders that touch Mexico and Canada respectively have historically straddled these assigned territories, crossing regularly to visit and maintain traditional sites. Native tribes such as the Tohono O’odham in Arizona, the Kickapoo Band of California, and the Confederate Colville Tribes in Washington have used traditional tribal enrollment cards to cross the border for decades. Now, there is uncertainty as to whether this practice will be allowed to continue.

The thought of tribal heads having to sit with officials from the Department of Homeland Security to discuss how they will ‘legally’ be allowed to continue their traditions and visit their historical sites that have been demarcated by imaginary lines is a little too ironic in my mind. It is reminiscent of a long history of negotiation processes dating back to the arrival of European settlers that has always left Native Americans on the losing end. Even in the creation of reservations themselves, it was by the permission of the United States government that tribespeople were allowed their own land. The current travel restrictions being imposed on the Native American way of life are a continuation of this historical abuse. It is a hard-hitting reminder of the people who are time and again forgotten in the creation of U.S policies.

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