Native American Delayed Birth Certificate Process Gets Streamlined

Oct 3, 2014

Last week, the state health department instituted a streamlined process for those Native Americans who were never issued birth certificate to obtain one. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the changes are expected to improve the lives of many tribal members.

Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler offers help to Navajos applying for delayed birth certificates two days a month.
Credit Cindy Carpien/NPR


Until recently, at least four documents have been needed to get a birth certificate in Arizona. It’s been a daunting process for many born before 1970 in rural areas, often at home. Now, members of 22 tribes in Arizona will need only a tribal enrollment record plus one other document showing date and place of birth as well parent names.

For many Native Americans in the state, obtaining a birth certificate has been a years-long process. They’ve also been ineligible for driver’s licenses as well as Social Security and some retirement benefits.

Lena Fowler is the Coconino County Supervisor for District 5, which includes the Navajo Nation. Since 2009, she has been working to change the rules in the state.

“It really does create a lot of hardship in the daily lives of these people, struggles and jus a lot of confusion,” Fowler says. 

Fowler says many Native Americans simply haven’t had the required documentation. She expects the new process to expedite many cases of people who have waited more than three decades for a birth certificate.

“I am just so happy. People’s quality of life if going to improve. They’re going to be able to exercise their full rights,” Fowler says.

But the changes are only temporary, and permanent fix requires a revision to state law. Fowler says legislation will be introduced next year and she hopes it’ll become law in 2015.