Missoulian reporter Tristan Scott takes a closer look at the U.S.-Cadanda border and how crossing that line is sometimes a struggle for tribal members.
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe officials have been mulling options and expressing frustrations about the situation at the border during talks with U.S. Border Patrol and Customs representatives this winter.
As Scott writes, there is a lot to discuss.
ELMO – The 49th parallel. The International Boundary. The Border.
In Montana, it is the northernmost perimeter, a 545-mile-long line along which the state rises to meet three Canadian provinces. The border distinguishes two nations and was born of negotiations that helped end the American Revolutionary War.
But to members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Blackfeet Nation, among others, the U.S.-Canada border is an arbitrary line demarcating ancestral lands, separating families and undermining tribal sovereignty.
In the most trifling circumstances, the border poses an annoyance to tribal members who regularly travel between Canada and the United States for family visits, council meetings or cultural and religious ceremonies. However, in other instances, either due to a lack of cultural awareness or a misunderstanding by officials with Customs and Border Protection, tribal members have been deeply offended or had their travel plans derailed.
Too many tribal members share horror stories of family members who are prohibited from crossing the border because they do not have a passport (they are not required to possess one) and of religious or cultural items that are unknowingly desecrated by Customs personnel, such as eagle feathers, sweetgrass or sacred medicine bundles.
“A lot of law enforcement and border patrol are ignorant about our culture and tradition in general,” said Vernon Finley of the Kootenai Culture Committee. “They don’t understand that as a tribe who lives along the border, we are allowed to move fluidly throughout our territory. We always have been. And they don’t understand the significance of our religious objects.”