Idle No More: Passport, Please?


Thank you to West Coast Native News
for republishing this article on their website.


The matter of immigration is something that those who are ill-informed banter about when it comes to pointing the finger at how First Nations peoples are supposedly given preferential treatment. It has to do with First Nations peoples living in Canada who decide to become First Nations peoples living in the United States of America. According to some, anyone who is a Native in Canada just has to show up at the border and sure as Bob’s your uncle, you’re over the border and living in America.

Not exactly.

According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), the only way a Native in Canada can immigrate to the U.S. is by following certain steps and ensuring they have proper documentation. And what are the rights steps and what constitutes proper documentation? According to AANDC, all it takes is the following:

Status Indians from Canada are permitted to move to the US without going through the normal immigration process. At the border crossing, they must present satisfactory documentation showing that they have at least 50 percent Indian ancestry. The types of documents requested may include any number of the following: a letter from the band office confirming 50 percent Indian ancestry; a Certificate of Indian Status card; a birth certificate; photo identification; and if the person is Haudenosaunee, a Haudenosaunee Iroquois Confederacy identification card.

Right away, that knocks those who are Non-Status and those who are Métis off the U.S. Immigration Fast Track to Immigration program (my name for it, not the U.S. government’s name for it or the Canadian government’s name for it.)

In order to be considered Status by the Canadian government, an individual must have all the aforementioned documents in order to satisfy any requests made of the applicant by the government.  In other words, if the applicant isn’t sure what may be requested, it’s best to have all of it available so all the bases are covered.  One of those documents is the Secure Certificate of Indian Status.  Sometimes the AANDC refers to this as the In-Canada SCIS.


What exactly does that mean?

And if there are In-Canada Status Indians, are there Out-Canada Status Indians?

Not exactly. The reference to In-Canada has to do with what personal information can and cannot be accessed by either, or both, governments at a border crossing.

While both the In-Canada and the Border Crossing formats are similar in that they both identify the cardholder as being Status, there are two major differences.

An In-Canada SCIS is issued to a cardholders born outside the U.S. or Canada, regardless of Citizenship, and who “do not wish to have their personal data shared with Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs Border Protection.”

A Border Crossing SCIS is issued to cardholders who are born within Canada or the United States, regardless of citizenship, and who “give consent to sharing information with Canada Border Services Agency, Passport Canada and, only when presented, to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection when visiting the U.S. via land ports of entry (which can include ferry and lake crossings).”

In other words, if someone is status, non-status, Métis, Inuit, on-reserve, off-reserve or whatever other descriptor used to identify someone with North American Indian heritage, it’s not as easy to immigrate to the U.S. as one might think.

Now that we have that confusion settled, let’s tackle sovereignty and passports. Word has it that the Iroquois have their own passport. Some might even think that this passport is a newer development in the situation between First Nations peoples, the U.S. government and the Canadian government.

The fact of the matter is that those who lived on-reserve back in the day remember having to get permission from the government agents of Canada to leave the reserve and enter Canada. No different from what happens at border crossings between Canada and the U.S. every single day, the question about how long someone from the reserve was going to be in Canada mattered.

Now I know that some of you may think I’m pulling your leg, but rest assured that it’s an historical fact. One case in point is this document from 1896.

FN Passport from 1896

As you can see,  the purpose of the Chief of the James Smith Band visit to Canada on July 12, 1896 was to see his daughter in Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada.  It was recorded by the Government of Canada agent that he would be in the country for 14 days and that he had permission from the Government of Canada agent to carry a gun while in Canada.

Yes, I can hear some of you saying that the document is over a hundred years old.  Surely things changed shortly after the turn of the century that took us into the 1900s, right?

Not really.

How about this passport?

FN Passport from 1932

Take a look at this document issued by the same agency in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, carrying the signature of a Government of Canada agent.  This time, Edward Yahyahkee Root of Beardy’s Band is entering Canada on November 18, 1932 for two weeks for the purpose of hunting big game.  He, too, is allowed to carry a gun with him while visiting.

Since passports were required, it’s obvious that the Government of Canada considered First Nations peoples to be sovereign nations otherwise there would be no need for passports for those on reserve to travel freely in Canada.

This is because, at the time the earlier treaties, all parties involved in the treaty that Native American people were citizens of their nation, with said nation being situated within the boundaries of what was considered the United States of America and/or Canada.

And so, the assertion made by some that there are to be no nation-to-nation discussions and meetings between the representatives of the Harper government and First Nations representatives is difficult to understand.   The argument being used is that First Nations are not nations ergo there is no basis for any nation-to-nation discussions and meetings.   Why?  Because in their estimation, tribes are not nations; they’re just a bunch of people who share a similar culture and a similar language.

If we are to use that definition as the reason to deny First Nations peoples the right to nation-to-nation discussions and meetings, then the European Union is in grave danger as well.  Citizens of various countries within the European Union watch as their governments are increasingly subservient to the Union as a whole.  I have yet to hear of someone from Germany or France or Britain or any other European country throwing up their hands and saying, “Oh, well, I guess we’re no longer German or French or British or any other nationality now that we’re Europeans.”

And just as Germans in Germany and Frenchmen in France and the British in Britain and other people in other countries retain their national identities while being part of the European Union, so do First Nations peoples retain their identities.

Elyse Bruce


4 Responses to “Idle No More: Passport, Please?”

  1. WCNN Says:

    another Great article Elyse…

  2. renaissanzelady Says:

    Thought provoking!
    Have met a few people of Native ancestry who live part time in Montana (USA) and part time in Alberta (Canada); they have family in both countries. We are very close to the border here. They seem (my understanding may be wrong) to hold their tribal (Native) status as very important.
    This is different than what Elyse is referring too, of course.

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