Some American Indians say tribal IDs aren’t being recognized

Bemidji, Minnesota (AP) 9-07

Some American Indians in Minnesota say their tribal identification cards aren’t being recognized as legitimate forms of ID off the reservation, despite a state law that says they can be used in place of state driver’s licenses.

The law, passed last year, applies only to instances in which people are required by the state to show identification, such as when buying tobacco or alcohol, or when pawning an item at a pawn shop. But even then, some businesses post signs by cash registers saying that tribal IDs aren’t accepted.

Audrey Thayer, coordinator of the Greater Minnesota Justice Project, a program of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said a lawsuit over tribal IDs has already been filed in Hennepin County, and more suits could be on the way.

“I’m moving rather quickly now to negotiate, and work with the county and the cities in the areas up here so that we don’t have to have suits,” she said. “No one wants to have suits filed against them.”

Kevin Mahto, a member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, knows all about getting his ID rejected.

He lives near a Bemidji pawnshop, and knows owner Don Josefson by name. But when he recently tried to pawn a full-length coat for $25, he couldn’t do it.

Since Josefson’s pawn shop is government-regulated, Josefson had to ask for an ID. He can accept Canadian IDs or IDs from other states, but the computer system he’s mandated to use doesn’t accept tribal IDs – and that’s all that Mahto carries.

“This is not New York City. This is Bemidji, Minnesota,” Josefson said. “I know a good deal of these people personally, and unless they’ve been lying to me since they were 15, they are who they say they are. But I can’t do business with them, because they don’t have a Minnesota state-issued ID.”

Josefson said he’s frustrated because he’s losing business, and because he thinks refusing tribal IDs is wrong.

Tribal governments may also run into problems. The new law says tribal IDs must contain security features that make them hard to duplicate or tamper with, but many tribal IDs may not meet those vague standards.

Beltrami County Attorney Tim Faver said the security situation is confusing. He said state agencies are working with tribes to establish clear criteria for secure IDs, but until there’s some uniformity, there will continue to be problems.

“It is really not fair in my mind that a clerk in a convenience store or, quite frankly, a city or county government, to be making the determination in a given case as to what ID card meets the requirements of the statute,” Faver said. “I think those are standards that need to be further defined and set by the state.”

American Indian tribes in Minnesota would like to see full recognition of tribal IDs everywhere. The new state law doesn’t apply to private businesses.

Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News,