Tribal IDs should work at airports, but travelers say TSA often rejects them

Interior: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Departing passengers at Sea-Tac International Airport. (Tom Banse/NW News Network)

Monico Ortiz says he was trying to fly from Seattle to Ketchikan when he got held up at a security checkpoint. He presented his Central Council of Tlingit and Haida identification card to a security agent, but the agent told him the scanning machine rejected it.

“And then he basically told me that it was not acceptable, (and asked) if I had some other form of ID,” Ortiz said. “I told them it was my tribal card, or my tribal ID, and I asked him to scan it again. And his response was, it was not going through the machine. So I told him, you know, that it should be acceptable.”

The cards are on TSA’s list of accepted IDs. The list also includes cards issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, military IDs and passports. But tribal ID cards need to be inspected manually, a TSA spokesperson wrote to KRBD on Wednesday.

Ortiz, who works in Seattle as an electrical engineer and is a Tlingit and Haida delegate there, said he ended up showing the agent his Washington driver’s license. He said he felt crunched for time to make his flight, so he didn’t ask for a supervisor or press the issue.

He says he filed a complaint with the TSA but hasn’t heard back. It’s his second complaint on the issue — it also happened in February of 2020 at an Oakland, California airport. He also reached out to TSA’s tribal affairs liaison.

“Basically, she noted that that CAT (credential authentication) technology machine does not read tribal IDs,” Ortiz said. “And the TSA officers should not be trying to, you know, use that machine. “

He says she recommended he ask for a supervisor next time — something he said he didn’t feel comfortable doing this time. But he says he’ll keep using the card.

Ortiz is even more concerned about what might happen after the deadline to get a REAL ID in May of next year. Ortiz says he has had his state ID with him when he travels, but he worries for tribal citizens who can’t get one or can’t afford the fee, which can range from $20 up to $40.

Alaska’s Division of Motor Vehicles says that once the May 3 deadline hits, federal identification like BIA or tribal cards will still be considered accepted forms of ID.

Jamiann S’eiltin Hasselquist is the vice president of Juneau’s chapter of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. She says the solution might lie in more training and awareness from TSA. She noted that there are 574 federally recognized tribes in the country, and that 229 of those are in Alaska.

“And so TSA has just got to do a better job and start training their staff on what is accepted and what is not accepted as identification, you know, with military ID is accepted,” Hasselquist said. “And, our tribal ID should be accepted. And it should be accepted wherever money is accepted.”

She said she refuses to use her Alaska state ID when traveling. It’s an attempt to raise awareness about the cards.

“So I kind of set all these boundaries, so that they can become educated, so that the next person who comes in doesn’t have this erasure of of our people, because we’ve been, you know, fighting for our identity and to be seen for you know, since colonization came to town, basically,” she said.

Hasselquist has tackled the issue before. She submitted a complaint to the Alaska Human Rights Commission when a Fred Meyer store in Juneau put up a sign announcing that the cards could not be used to purchase tobacco products. She says the sign reminded elders of a time when stores would hang “no dogs, no Natives” signs in their windows.

“So tobacco is also used in ceremony, so for that sign to be posted, is also I think, an infringement against our freedom to religion,” she said.

She referenced the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. The sign was removed three weeks after Hasselquist first saw it.

Hasselquist said that a conciliation agreement was being worked on. And Hasselquist said that the Tlingit and Haida cards already meet the REAL ID standards, which include new security features.

“It has my address.” she said. “It has my enrollment number. It has my date of birth. It has an expiration date, it has a photo, it has a logo of the federally recognized tribe, and then it also has the holograms on it.”

Hasselquist said she wants to see the cards as accepted forms of identification not only at airports, but anywhere people are required to show ID.

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