US Travel and Indian Status
I receive a considerable number of calls from people who have status under the Indian Act wondering about what this means in terms of US entry privileges. The simple answer is that holding a Status Card does NOT entitle you to cross the border if you are otherwise inadmissible. US Travel and Indian Status don’t necessarily mean a “free pass” the border.
I think the confusion lies in that a Status Card used to be accepted as a valid travel document (just as a driver’s license used to be all you needed to cross the border). Some Ports of Entry will still accept a Status Card but as of 2011 no exceptions will be made and you will need to present a Secure Certificate of Indian Status in order to be allowed into the US. A Secure Certificate of Indian Status replaces a passport but just as a passport would not give me the right to cross the border if I had a criminal record, a US border guard will still refuse you entry if you only present a SCIS and you have a history of criminal convictions.
That being said, the Jay Treaty of 1794 does acknowledge certain travel rights for First Peoples. Essentially, you must be able to satisfy a 50% blood quantum requirement in order to be entitled to cross the border regardless of your criminal history. You should present an official letter from your First Nation or Band or Tribe detailing your ancestry so that the admitting customs officer can determine that you have at least 50% indigenous blood. If you can provide that letter, then you should be able to travel across the border without any trouble, even if you have a serious criminal record. If you cannot obtain such a letter (or if you have less than 50% indigenous blood) then you have no choice but to apply for an Entry Waiver if you wish to cross the border.
Please feel free to contact me personally if you have specific questions about your case.