New Mexico bill helps Navajo elders without birth certificate establish identity at state level

SANTA FE, N.M. - The Navajo Nation Council added an amendment to a New Mexico bill that allows elderly Navajo people with no birth certificate to use a "Certificate of Indian Blood" to establish their identity at the state level.

The bill, H.B. 99, was passed by the New Mexico state legislature and sent to New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez for consideration Feb. 15.

"We thank our state lawmakers for approving the amended language and we respectfully ask the governor to sign it into law for the benefit of Navajo elders and all New Mexico tribes," said Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates.

The legislation, known as the Real ID Driver's License bill, would address the state's non-compliance with a federal law knows as the Real ID Act, which was signed in 2005 and outlines certain requirements for states to follow in order for ID's issued by states to be honored at the federal level.

New Mexico currently does not comply with the requirements and therefore state ID's are no longer honored by the federal government, which prompted state lawmakers to pass H.B. 99.

The bill drew concern from several members of the council over the possible impact for elderly Navajo people who do not have a birth certificate because many were born in rural areas - not in hospitals.

"Many of our very elderly people were born in remote areas and many did not receive birth certificates at the time of their birth," Bates said. "So I thank my council colleagues for recognizing this fact and for bringing it to the attention of state lawmakers."

In recent days, council members, along with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, worked with New Mexico Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage (Dist. 4 - R) to draft the amendment that allows Navajo people to use a Certificate of Indian Blood as a valid form of identification to establish their lawful status.

The official amendment reads, "allowing a person to use a certified letter of enrollment or a valid identification card issued by a federally recognized Indian nation, tribe or pueblo to demonstrate the person's identity or age or to demonstrate the person's lawful status."

Council Delegates Amber Kanazbah Crotty, Leonard Tsosie, Benjamin Bennett, Tuchoney Slim, Jr., Seth Damon and Norman M. Begay recently met with several top state lawmakers and advocated for the amended language that was approved by both the Senate and House.

Council members will continue lobbying efforts and encourage Martinez to sign the bill, along with the amended language, into law.

The 52nd New Mexico State Legislature will end its current 30-day session at noon Feb. 18.

Martinez has until March 9 to sign the bill for it to become law. All bills that are not signed by Martinez by March 9 will be pocket-vetoed and not become law.

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