I happily left the wetland of Southern Maine yesterday for Maine's northernmost county. As I exited 95 in Houlton, the sky opened up just enough for me to pull out my sunglasses.
I met with the chief of the Band of Maliseet Indians in Houlton, Brenda Commander. I saw the sign on Route 1 she had mentioned that read, "Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians", which was set against a background of the Houlton Police Barracks and Customs Enforcements. I tried to take a picture, but Mainers drive way too fast on Route 1 in the County.
Chief Commander and I discussed the challenges the tribes face with the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a DHS regulation that went into effect June 1st, 2009. With the WHTI in effect, anyone crossing the Maine border into Canada will need a passport. The initiative poses an interesting (and probably redundant) question of autonomy for the tribes. Most members of the tribes carry tribal ID cards, which may be used in lieu of driver's licenses or state ID cards when flying. For Brenda, using her tribal ID card is a matter of identity and autonomy as a Native. Before WHTI, tribal ID cards were sufficient for crossing the border, which for the Maliseets is imperative given the number of families with members on both sides of the border. With the new passport requirement, Chief Commander worried about the privacy concerns with submitting personal information to the federal government, rather than maintaining the tribal system of identification.
I'm in Aroostook and Washington Counties for the rest of the week learning about the issue. Stay posted for more insights.