Navajos struggle to get delayed birth certificates

FLAGSTAFF, AZ - For Navajos born in remote areas of the Navajo Nation, getting a birth certificate to access retirement and health benefits has been a struggle under Arizona's strict regulations.

Most residents born before the 1970s were commonly delivered at home without any hospital-issued birth certificate, KNAU-FM reported. Many of those residents today can obtain a "delayed birth certificate," but not without proper documentation.

Officials say sometimes as many as six documents, including a Navajo Census record, are required in Arizona. It's also harder for some people who may have changed their first or last name.

Lena Fowler, the only Navajo on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, devotes two days a month in her Tuba City office to people who need a birth certificate. Those days always bring lines, Fowler said. Many people have become frustrated by the process. She said some people have told her that they spent decades trying to get the certificate. The holdup prompted her to contact state officials a year ago with calls and emails.

"It took a while ... for the state to acknowledge that there was actually an issue that Native Americans were having a very difficult time obtaining their birth certificates," Fowler said.

Some residents of the Navajo Nation, which includes parts of New Mexico and Utah, said the rules are the most stringent in Arizona. The rules on obtaining delayed birth certificates have remained the same for 25 years. State Department of Health Director Will Humble said the state may update its policy and slash the number of necessary documents.

"The efforts that we're going through now would give the county health departments clear guidance about what kind of tribal documents would get applicants delayed birth certificates," Humble said. "But right now, that guidance doesn't exist."

His hope is that a new policy would cut down on the paperwork and apply to all 22 tribes in Arizona.

"What we hope this will do is make it a one stop shop," Humble said.

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