Birth certificates easier to obtain under new guidelines

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Native Americans born at home in rural remote locations or in the care of a traditional mid-wife can now obtain a birth certificate through the state health services department.

Until the new procedure was 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. Sometimes, the more time that passed from the date of birth to the time a delayed birth certificate was sought, the harder it was to produce the required documentation.

Under the new guidelines, which became effective Sept. 26, 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.

Although the fix is a temporary, it is a much needed one according to Lena Fowler, Coconino County District 5 supervisor. Her district includes the Navajo Nation.

"This is a major victory for the state's rural tribal elders, many of whom were born at home and the state has no official birth record," Fowler said. "By altering their procedures, the state department of Health Services has helped thousands of residents obtain a driver's license, social security benefits and prove their residency."

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 Rep. Albert Hale, who represents District 7, to develop a procedure to make the process easier.

"We crossed the finish line... when we adopted a new substantive policy statement that outlines and streamlines the process for tribal elders," Humble said.

Hale said while the fix is temporary, he plans to introduce a bill that will solve the problem permanently.

"Native Americans are the first Americans," Hale said. "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."

Fowler said she looks forward to working with the Arizona legislature, the governor and Sen. Carlyle Begay and Hale as they pursue a permanent fix.

"This is too important an issue to our citizens to go unfixed," Fowler said.

Even though temporary at the moment, Fowler said the new process is still an important one that has been needed for years.

"It's been a long time coming," she said. "I'm glad it's finally here. This will help lots of people."

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