FBC Student Succeeds In Tribal IDs Campaign

Feb 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 19-3: Beyond Our Names: Uncovering Identity, Tribal College News
By Charlene M. Forman

It all started when Burt Rider (Assiniboine) went to an off-reservation establishment in Havre, MT, to get something to eat. Before he could order, the attendant asked for his identification. Since the business had a casino, he needed identification to prove that he was of age. When Rider presented his tribal government identification card, the attendant told him that was not acceptable as a form of legal identification.

Rider pointed out that it was recognized by the federal government as a legal source of identification. He said that the Fort Belknap Tribe is a sovereign nation. The tribe accepts non-Indian identification cards, so non-Indians should accept ours. His argument was to no avail so he had to go to Billings, MT, a 3-hour drive away, to get his driver’s license.

The incident inspired him to write an essay for his Composition Class at Fort Belknap College, and then he took the essay to a fellow tribal member, journalist Jennifer Perez, for her critique. Perez, then a Fort Belknap News journalist, shared his essay with her mother, Rep. Margarett Campbell (D-Poplar, Assiniboine), who submitted it to the Montana State Legislature.

In February 2007, it passed and was signed into law. The bill was named after Rider to honor his activism. As with any change, it caused controversy. Newspapers carried comments such as: “… we should allow them to print their own money…as if there isn’t enough fraud and abuse already with state issued ID cards.” And “I will change my business policy; I now need 2 forms of I.D. effective Oct. 1.”

There were also positive comments such as, “This has been LONG overdue… I’m glad to see Schweitzer [the Montana governor] and Montana step up to the plate and give tribal government and members the respect they deserve…”

Roosevelt County Commissioner Gary Macdonald told a Great Falls Tribune reporter, “We strongly believe that since these are independent governments, their forms of ID ought to be accepted by the state, just as we accept theirs.”

Despite the law, private businesses do not have to accept tribal ID cards, according to the Montana Legislature’s Legal Office, just as there is no law that requires private businesses to accept state driver’s licenses.

Rider graduated from the tribal college in May 2007 with an Associate of Arts Degree in Liberal Arts. Along with his diploma, Burt Rider holds in his possession the official House Bill-789 signed on April 2, 2007. This bill not only benefits Rider, it benefits all Indians on all seven reservations in the state of Montana.

Charlene M. Forman (Gros Ventre) did the research for this article for Instructor Cristina Estrada’s Comp II class at Fort Belknap College in May 2007.

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