Always the Warrior, But Never a Member of a Federally Recognized Tribe

Charlene Abrahamson

Does anyone remember an incident in Spokane, Washington, when the Salvation Army turned away a Turtle Mountain Chippewa family for emergency shelter because they did not accept Tribal Identifications? It was in January 2007 and the family slept in their car in below-zero temperatures. After media attention and many, many complaints the Salvation Army apologized and looked at their policy. Their business administrator, Richard Silva, told the local paper, “That was not just wrong, it’s illegal,” and they began the process of educating themselves, including meeting with tribal agencies and individuals.

I e-mailed them at the time and Mr. Silva replied to me personally, including the following: “On behalf of the Spokane Salvation Army, this letter is to apologize to those Native American families—and particularly Darrell and Beverly Azure—for the error and oversight in our shelter policy regarding acceptable forms of ID, which has resulted in the denial of services to them.  And personally, I deeply regret that I did not become aware of this policy much sooner. After a significant (and much overdue) scrutiny of the specific ID and related intake policies, I have initiated an immediate change in our shelter intake requirements that took effect midday on January 19, 2007, and which will be in accordance with the federal government’s DHS Form I-9 regarding acceptance of Tribal IDs.”

I very much appreciated the sincerity and work they began quickly. It cannot be denied that the Salvation Army also helps many, many people looking for support.

At the time I thought: “This is 2007. I can’t believe this!” Naturally, my feelings were not simply anger. I was hurt, too, at the ongoing, never-ending, education—always the result of trauma put upon a Native individual or group—that must occur over and over again to reach non-Natives about the laws, sovereignty, traditions and basic respect our people deserve.

Now here we are in 2014, and a member of a federally recognized Washington tribe living in Oregon is told by their Department of Motor Vehicles that they do not recognize Washington tribal IDs. This was in response to her attempts to renew her driver’s license in a state where she has lived for many years.

Oregon generally has a reputation for being progressive, inclusive and perhaps even on the forefront of embracing diversity in all forms. But unlike the immediate response I received from Mr. Silva, and despite being inundated with calls and e-mails, I have yet to hear from anyone within Oregon agencies and tribal liaisons about the reason behind what I consider an illegal policy. I began e-mailing different people, including the Oregon governor’s office and members of Congress in a respectful manner.


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Two Bears Growling's picture
Another thing I find insulting with mandating ID's is that so many places will not accept one that doesn't have ones picture on it. This is wrong as well. There are tribes & peoples who do not believe in having their picture taken. To do so violates their freedom of religion rights as guaranteed by the US Constitution. Who is going to take this wrong & make it right?
Two Bears Growling
Barry Heth's picture
It would seem that if we can use Tribal IDs to vote for the President of the United States - why would State's make an issue of them? Illinois is the same way.. DMV, Walmart, Banks, etc.
Barry Heth
bullbear's picture
Mandatory ID's for social and medical services, social security cards for everyone who is listed on income tax filing forms have become common place which we can thank 'identity theft' for. Arizona may have been on the forefront of attacks of racial improprieties, but as we can all see, it exists at all levels of government in all states and even 'free' public services supported by taxes and donations. The sad part is that public services supposedly founded on helping any and everyone in need has now become another red tape bureaucracy. There is no sight in end and it will get worse, before it gets any better. Get ready for a long bumpy ride America aka 'home of the free.'
Michael Madrid's picture
Things aren't much better for us "ethnic Indians" here in New Mexico. If we're not hated for being NDNs, we're hated for being "Mexicans (the generic term around here for "dark-skinned." I lament the fact that I'm not associated with the Mescaleros near me. My N'de blood came from my grandfather which doesn't count in a matrilinial society, so unfortunately I will never have a tribal ID to worry about.
Michael Madrid