UPDATE: The CBSA responded to APTN’s request for comment after deadline. A CBSA spokesperson stated that individuals registered under the Indian Act “have a right of entry to Canada… The absence of a Canadian passport, in and of itself, would not prevent a traveller from entering Canada from the US. A traveller may present a Secure Certificate of Indian Status Card (SCIS) or a valid Certificate of Indian Status (CIS) card to establish identity and their right to enter Canada. However, these documents are not prescribed/official travel documents which would be accepted for air travel as they do not meet the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requirements and are not pursuant to section 259 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations unlike the PR card which is recognized as an official document for travel outside of Canada, including air.”
She also stated that CBSA officers use “the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) which allows for the Certificate of Indian Status to be accepted at the land border as an approved document, allowing Registered Indians under the Indian Act to enter by right.”
In short, an Indian status card cannot be used to board a plane – but when it comes to entering Canada via an airport, it can be up to the CBSA officer’s discretion.
A Kanien’kehá:ka woman says she was refused re-entry into Canada when she presented her Indian status card at the Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, just 15 km from her home community of Kahnawá:ke.
Konwatsitsa:wi Meloche was returning from a trip to Las Vegas on March 21, when she noticed the automatic entry kiosks accepted permanent resident cards. She figured she could use her similar looking, Canadian government-issued Indian status card there, rather than her Canadian passport.
But the kiosk rejected her card — and so did the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) official when she presented it to him.
“I jokingly said, ‘Well, I’m the OPR, which is the original permanent resident.’ And he said, ‘I’m not accepting that card, you need to produce a passport.’ I said, ‘It’s exactly like the PR card, it’s almost identical.’
“He said ‘No, you produce me a passport from Canada, and then you can move along,'” recounted Meloche.
Meloche says she handed over her passport because it was getting late and her husband was waiting for her.
“It is their own government’s document. A passport, I guess in [the CBSA official’s] mind – I’m not going to speak for him – but it trumped…the Indian Affairs status card,” she said, noting she was furious to have to identify as Canadian instead of First Nations.
“Canadian’s rights follow them all over the world. Why don’t our rights follow us?” she asked.
Meloche said she contacted CBSA later and was told an Indian status card is a “legitimate and valid” document for entry back into the country, which is confirmed on its website.
But she did not receive an explanation as to why her card wasn’t accepted.
There are travel documents produced by Indigenous nations in Canada.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, made up of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Tuscaroras and Senecas located in Ontario, Quebec and parts of the Northeastern United States, has its own passport, which Elder Kenneth Deer of Kahnawá:ke says he uses to travel internationally.
“We believe that our own identification documents are what we should be using to travel anywhere or to use our I.D. anywhere,” said Deer, “because it’s Mohawks who should decide who’s Mohawk, not the Canadian government or the American government.”
While Haudenosaunee passports follow international standards, they are missing a readable chip. In order to obtain one, the nation needs a country code issued by the United Nations, so Haudenosaunee passport holders need to request entry into countries in advance to obtain a visa.
Deer, who is on the Haudenosaunee External Relations committee, says the Haudenosaunee have largely maintained positive relations with other countries, but it’s a cumbersome process to request visas to travel abroad.
Deer says he cannot use his Haudenosaunee passport to re-enter Canada through an international airport.
“They should recognize the identification documents that we issue, it only makes sense,” said Deer.
“We know who we are, and security is our concern just as much as everybody else. We want to be able to issue secure identification cards, and we have to do that ourselves.”
Until then, those wanting to identify as First Nations should be able to present their Indian status card to re-enter Canada, said Meloche, who recommended “intense training” for not only CBSA but “everyone to understand what it is to barricade us out of our own territory.”
The CBSA did not respond to APTN’s request for comment by deadline.