Hale and Fowler work with government agencies to make it easier for Indian Nation
citizens born outside health facilities to get “delayed” birth certificates
STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – A birth certificate is something most people take for granted. It is an essential document needed to get a driver’s license, a social security card, even to prove legal residency and United States citizenship. But some of our country’s original Native American citizens – born at home or in the care of a traditional midwife in one of Arizona’s rural, remote Indian Nation areas – have been unable to obtain this vital document.
State Representative Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), and Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler, D-Tuba City (District 5), are helping change that.
“Native Americans are the first Americans. They are citizens of the United States and the state of Arizona. It is their right to have access to this basic documentation needed to enjoy the rights and privileges afforded to citizens of this country,” Hale said.
As a result of Hale and Fowler’s work with state officials over the past few months, the Arizona Department of Health Services met and consulted with Indian Nation leaders Friday, July 18 on a new, draft streamlined process for obtaining a delayed birth certificate if there was not one initiated for a Indian Nation citizen at the time of his or her birth.
“Our objective is to correct the injustice that Native American citizens of our state must endure because they cannot obtain this personal documentation that proves their legal citizenship. Arizona tribal members at this very moment are being denied services they are eligible for,” Fowler said. “For this reason, Rep. Hale and I are working to change the department policy, regulation and state law.”
“There are a lot of people, even today, who are not born in hospitals. In Indian Nation communities, sometimes there is no choice but to have a baby at home because the closest health care facility may be miles away,” Hale said. “If you don’t have the baby at a hospital, no one starts immediately working on the documents required to create a birth certificate.”
If a birth certificate is not immediately processed at the time of birth, a person must go through a lengthy process with the state to obtain a “delayed” birth certificate. This process currently involves producing four separate forms of verification or “proof” that a person was born at a specific time and place. The more time that passes from the date of birth to the time a delayed birth certificate is sought, the harder it often is to produce the required documentation.
“For many people, it is almost impossible to get through the process and actually obtain a birth certificate,” Hale said. “If you don’t have a birth certificate, that means no social security card, no driver’s license, no passport. You have Native Americans unable to prove they are U.S. citizens. It just doesn’t make sense,” Hale said.
Hale, Fowler and other Indian Nation representatives raised concerns about the “delayed” birth certificate process to DHS and found that DHS was sympathetic to the concern, especially as it disproportionately appeared to impact people living in Native American communities.
Officials at DHS have been working with Hale, Fowler, other legislators, Indian Nation representatives, and county officials to develop an alternative process for Indian Nation citizens to use in obtaining a delayed birth certificate. This new process will only require two forms of verification and will allow Indian Nation government documents and U.S. Indian Health Service official records to meet most of the documentation requirements.
At this time, it is unclear when the new alternative process for Indian Nation citizens to use in obtaining a delayed birth certificate will be available. But Hale said, “Things continue to move in a positive direction. The meeting last Friday with stakeholders was very productive. There will be other meetings to continue to refine the alternative process.”
“I am pleased that government officials joined with Indian Nation representatives to find a common-sense solution to this problem,” Hale said. “I stand ready to introduce legislation and advocate to make this new process and policy become a permanent part of Arizona state law.”
The existing delayed birth certificate process can be found at this link:
Rep. Hale is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He was born in Ganado and raised in Klagetoh, Arizona. He is Ashiihi (Salt), born for Todichiini (Bitter Water). His maternal grandparents are Hanaghani (Walk About clan). His paternal grandparents are Kiyanii (Tall House clan). He is a 1969 graduate of Fort Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school located east of Gallup, New Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (1973), and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1977), and an honorary Juris Doctor degree from Phoenix School of Law (2012). He is the former President of the Navajo Nation.