FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Native Americans born at home in rural remote locations or in the care of a traditional mid-wife are one step closer to a permanent rule that allows them to obtain a birth certificate through the state health services department.
After more than five years of work, the legislation passed key Arizona House and Senate committees on Feb. 18 and is now headed to the full House and Senate for approval. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Albert Hale, D -St. Michaels and Sen. Carlyle Begay, D- Ganado.
Lena Fowler, Coconino County District 5 supervisor, initiated the legislation that was implemented in September 2014 that streamlines the process, but since that time the process has been temporary. She said that in addition to Hale, Begay and the county, the Navajo Nation and 22 tribes across the state
helped to keep the issue at the forefront and move the bills forward.
Fowler said it is important to remember that the legislation has been in place for five months and is already working.
"The new rule adopted by the Arizona Department of Health Services has already helped Native Americans earn benefits, get a driver's license and even vote for the first time," Fowler said Feb. 18 in Phoenix when she testified in support of both bills.
Until the new procedure was temporarily adopted, it could take years for Native Americans born before 1970 to complete the tedious process to receive a delayed birth certificate from the state. The process required producing four separate forms to verify that a person was born at a specific time and place.
Under the new guidelines residents born before 1970 at home in rural, remote portions of the county can now submit an official tribal enrollment record that includes the person's name, parent's name, date and location of birth with a supporting document, like a medical record, that has those four birth facts. Once the information is verified, the individual will be issued a delayed birth certificate.
In September, Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble said the change came because of work done with tribal governments and state legislators, including Fowler and Hale who helped to develop a procedure to make the process easier.
Hale said it is important that the bill passes permanently because Native Americans are the first Americans and are citizens of United States as well as Arizona. He believes it is their right to have access to basic documentation needed to enjoy the rights and privileges afforded to citizens of this country.
Fowler said she was pleased that the legislation received unanimous bipartisan support.
"Coconino County is looking forward to seeing the bills continue to move through the legislative process to ensure all of its citizens may enjoy the rights afforded to them that come by simply having a birth certificate," Fowler said.