July 27, 2018

Kilmer, Stefanik Introduce Bill to End Blood Quantum Discrimination Against Native Americans in Border Law

WASHINGTON, DC—This week, Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced H.R. 6598, a bill that would end a half-century-old US immigration policy which requires Native Americans to carry proof of their blood quantum, documents showing that they are at least 50 percent Native American, when exercising their treaty-protected right to freely cross between the US and Canada.

“Requiring Native Americans to prove their blood quantum in order to exercise their treaty-protected rights is ridiculous and discriminatory,” Representative Derek Kilmer said. “The federal government must respect the sovereignty of each  federally-recognized tribe to determine who is eligible to exercise their treaty rights. ”

I am pleased to join this bipartisan effort to support the St. Regis Mohawks and all of our Native American tribes,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “This legislation simply upholds the ability of Native Americans to determine their own tribal membership and to travel freely to their homelands. I thank my colleagues for their work on this effort and urge the House to pass this important bill.”

Gary Aitken, Jr., Chairman of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and Co-Chair of the Northern Tribal Border Alliance said: "I would like to thank Mr. Kilmer and the House co-sponsors for acting today to protect the border crossing rights of Indian people recognized in the Jay Treaty of 1794.  The Kootenai people have been divided by the U.S.-Canadian border since it was established without our consent.  Today's action is one step closer to achieving the full promise of the Jay Treaty."


Eric Thompson, Chief of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and Co-Chair of the Northern Tribal Border Alliance said: "This legislation is an important recognition of our inherent rights to access our own homelands and to determine membership of our tribal members as self-governing nations. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe and members of the Northern Tribal Border Alliance look forward to continue working with members of Congress to modernize this outdated language in a way that reflects the realities of federal Indian law."

The US Department of the Interior currently issues Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaskan Native Blood that members of tribes can show to prove their blood quantum. The process to obtain the certificate  is complicated and requires documentation including lists of the maiden names of a person’s female ancestors and the birth or death certificates parents and grandparents—documents many eligible people do not have.

Kilmer and Stefanik’s bill would allow travelers crossing the border to simply show their tribe-issued identification to prove that they are a member of a federally-recognized tribe. In addition to this legislation, Kilmer successfully offered an amendment containing the bill’s language to a House spending bill this week. The amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill would prohibit the US Customs and Border Protection Agency from enforcing the current blood quantum law through September 2019. The amendment was adopted during the markup with bipartisan support.

The problem that led to Kilmer and Stefanik’s action is rooted in a treaty drafted by Alexander Hamilton, negotiated by John Jay and signed by President George Washington.

In 1794, Great Britain and the fledgling United States of America entered into the Jay Treaty. According to the United States Department of State, the Jay Treaty prevented a second war with Great Britain, established trade policy between the two nations and, through arbitration, led to the creation of America’s northern border. The border lines cut through tribal land and split the tribes between present day Canada and the United States.

The Jay Treaty permitted Native Americans “dwelling on either side of the [United State-Canadian Border], freely to pass and repass, by land or inland navigation into the respective territories and countries of the two parties on the continent of America . . ."

In 1952, Congress enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act to govern immigration and citizenship in the United States. It amended the Jay Treaty to say the rights to freely travel “shall extend only to persons who possess at least 50 per centum of blood of the American Indian race.”

Since 1952, that amendment left traveling members of tribes with two options: complete the onerous and sometimes impossible process of proving how much “Indian blood” a person has in order to be able to cross the border or stay home.

The Members of Congress worked with the Northern Tribal Border Alliance to introduce the bill that rights this wrong. The NTBA is a group of federally-recognized tribes and First Nation communities who raise important issues related to tribal sovereignty and the US-Canada Border.