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Bleg: border-crossing rights


Abusing the keys to the blog a bit here, but I thought I’d appeal to the substantial collective knowledge of our readership.

Another research project has piqued my interest in existing cases, historical and contemporary, in which particular groups (indigenous people, primarily) are granted international border crossing privileges by virtue of their membership in that group. Examples:

Indigenous peoples residing in the vicinity of the US/Canada border have extensive free passage rights and a right to reside in the country not of their citizenship, as outlined in the Jay Treaty (1794) and again in the Treaty of Ghent (1814).  More here.

On the US/Mexico border, no broad indigenous right of free passage exists. However, for at least some groups such arrangements have come to exist. The Kickapoo were chased out of the Great Lakes region and moved around for much of the 19th century, eventually settling in two locations: a federal territory created for them in Indian territory and some land granted to them by the Mexican government in Coahuila. The two groups maintained cultural, political and economic ties, and the INS informally granted the Kickapoo free and unfettered passage from the 1950’s on. That arrangement was eventually codified in the Kickapoo Band of Texas Act in 1983.

In 1751, the Stromstad treaty between Denmark and Sweden codified the boundary between the (then Danish) territory of Norway and Sweden. This law contained a “Lapp codicil,” which granted members of the Lapp people free passage rights across this border for the purposes of nomadic reindeer herding.

I’m looking for more examples of the phenomenon. I’d be interested in border crossing rights for indigenous peoples or other specific ethnic or national groups, whether achieved via international treaties, national legislation, and administrative practice.

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  • DrDick

    The Mohawk (one of their reservations straddles the border) and perhaps some other Iroquois have similar rights in Canada. As a side note, when I was in graduate school at the University of Oklahoma in the late 1970s there were Kickapoo living in Oklahoma that spoke only Kickapoo and Spanish.

  • Alan

    This may not be quite what you want, but Par Cassel has a new book out on extraterritoriality in East Asia. I’m not sure it will give you what you want, but the bibliography should give you a lot of stuff on East Asian ideas about borders.


    • djw

      Sounds quite similar to this, which has long been on my to-read list.

  • Rennie

    Sorry, don’t have any references, and am not even sure I’m right on this, but I believe that the Lapps, in addition to their Norway-Sweden wanderings, also wander freely back and forth between Finland and Russia, even during the cold war era.

    • djw

      The information I’ve found on this is inconsistent.

      • Alan Tomlinson

        The “Lapps” prefer to be called Sami. Much like white people don’t like to be called “white trash.”


        Alan Tomlinson

        • djw

          Yes, I was quoting the 1751 treating language, but good point.

        • greylocks

          Much like white people don’t like to be called “white trash.”

          This is label is proudly worn in some quarters.

    • sue

      Emilie Demant Hatt, a Danish woman, lived with a group of Swedish Sami in 1907-8 and traveled with them as they followed the reindeer migrations. She wrote a book about it, a translation of which is due to be published this year by Wisconsin (I was the copyeditor – it’s a fascinating book). She mentions that the Swedish Sami needed the Swedish government’s assistance to be allowed to take their reindeer herds over the border into Finland, and they’d be fined if any of their animals strayed over. It seemed to be quite common, though, for Finnish and Swedish Sami to cross back and forth over the border if they weren’t trying to take reindeer with them; apparently some Swedish Sami who weren’t participating in the migration would stay with Finnish families. There didn’t seem to be any great restrictions about taking the herds between Norway and Sweden, which makes sense considering the 18th-cen treaty and the fact that Norway had only been independent from Sweden for a couple of years; the Sami still had to be careful not to let the reindeer graze in the wrong places, but it sounds like the fines weren’t quite as heavy.

      • Finland (Grand Duchy thereof, iirc) was part of the Russian Empire at that time. I’m sure it comes across in the book, but may not be known to all who read the comments here.

      • Lurker

        In practice, the border between Finland and Sweden has never been closed for the local population. Even in 1920s-1955, when the border was officially controlled, the local population were issued border-crossing permits which allowed free movement, although there were, at least in theory, customs controls.

    • I am doubting this last statement. I haven’t been able to find anything yet specifically on Saami being allowed to freely cross the Finnish-Soviet border. But, I did find some stuff on the Soviet Far East border and indigenous populations did not have free movement from the USSR to the US and back. They did not even have free movement from the Far East to other regions of the USSR and back.

    • Lurker

      The situation with the Sami border-crossing rights in Finland, is, sadly different from Norway/Sweden border.

      The border between Finland (then an autonomous part of Russia) and Norway was defined in 1852, following which the Norwegians closed the border, mostly for national security reasons. This was a catastrophe for the Finnish-based Northern Sami, who had taken their reindeer herds to the Norwegian coast as a part of the seasonal migration pattern. They lost their traditional way of migration and were forced to adopt a clearly inferior method of reindeer herding.

      In 1920, the newly independent Finland got, as a result of Tartu peace treaty, the Pechenga (Petsamo) area from Russia. The border towards Russia was officially closed and during the 1920s and 1930s, the Finnish and Soviet states became strong enough even to enforce this border closure. Before that, the Russian-based Kolta Sami and the Finnish-based reindeer herders (Northern Sami, Inari Sami and Finnish settlers or Fennicized Sami) waged an informal border war by raiding each others’ reindeer herds and settlements.

      The Kolta Sami of Pechenga (some 500) were evacuated to the Finnish Lapland during the war, when the Pechenga was lost back to Soviets. They were given a new area in Northernmost Lapland and they still have a autonomous community in the area, with certain special rights to financial assistance and landholding. However, the border towards Soviet Union was completely closed, for indigenous and newly-arrived people alike.

      Since 1955, person movement between Finland, Norway and Sweden has been free. For modern-day reindeer-herding, however, the borders are still closed. The current paliskunta model is based on geographical reindeer-herding entities, the paliskunta, each with its own enclosed area. Every reindeer-owner belongs (by law) to a paliskunta of his domicile and must have all his reindeer inside that paliskunta’s region. (If a person resides outside the reindeer-herding area, and receives the ownership of reindeer by gift or inheritance, he is obligated to move into reindeer-herding area or to sell his reindeer within three years to a person residing there). No herd movement between paliskuntas takes place.

      • This is what I suspected. Although I could not find anything specifically on border crossing regarding the Saami in Slezkine’s, _Arctic Mirrors_ which is the only book in my library that looked like it would be helpful.

  • shah8

    One of the long running conflicts of the world is between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Armenian enclaves in Nagorno-Karabakh.

  • BruceJ

    The Yaqui and Tohono O’Odham tribes in Southern AZ have been fighting this issue for many years, as their lands are bisected by the Mexico-US border

    • J R in WV

      My understanding of this situation was that they had a defined ability to cross the US – Mexican border at will.

      I could be wrong, but I distinctly remember this being an issue with the “Border Fence” project so popular with the wingnuts.

      • following up on BruceJ’s comment, Before 9/11 (I think), I worked with a group here in Japan working on endangered languages and for one of the conferences, Tohono O’odham poet and linguist Ofelia Zepeda was invited but couldn’t come because the US wouldn’t issue her a passport. as Tohono O’odham are not US citizens, which is related to their defined ability to cross the border at will, I think. She’s also a professor of linguistics and American Indian studies at the University of Arizona and a recipient of a MacArthur grant and her latest volume of poetry has some poems that are inspired by border issues.

        Here’s another article about the tribe. I second the request that you post on the subject as you read.

    • The Yaqui lands do not cross the border. They lived in Mexico and a large number fled to the US to escape persecution, particularly in the early 20th century. There were earlier Yaqui settlements in what became the US, but these were not contiguous with their traditional homeland in Sonora. They have a small reservation in the Tuscon area complete with a casino. The Tohono O’Odham lands do indeed cut across the US-Mexican border.

  • L.M.

    The 1925 film Grass famously depicted the migration of the Bakhtiari from Ottoman Anatolia to pastures in Persia.

    I have the strong impression that various bedu groups have moved freely across international borders in the Syrian Desert regions of Syria/Iraq/Jordan/Saudi Arabia and the Empty Quarter regions of Yemen/Oman/UAE/Saudi Arabia with some sort of official toleration, but I can’t remember any details.

    The 2004 film The Syrian Bride is the story of a young Druze woman leaving the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to marry in Syria. Such movement was only one-time, one-way.

    It would be interesting to consider whether the Hajj is an example of the phenomenon in which you’re interested.

  • ruviana

    It’s completely NOT my area of expertise, but I recall from ethnographic films I’ve shown my students that the !Kung or Jutwas/i (what some people still call the “Bushmen”) had rights to cross some of the different African countries that bisected their territories.

    Of course all this points to how national boundaries are both socially constructed and benefit some groups over others.

  • shah8

    Samoa and American Samoa?

    • American Samoa, the only US territory to have such powers, controls immigration. My impression is that the AS controls are both slight and not totally predictable.

      There are many A Samoa residents with close relatives in the other (larger) Samoa.

      I have been told that when the American tuna factories are hiring — there used to be two and there may only be one now — it was easy for a person from Western Samoa to enter to work, but once there were no vacancies. passage became more difficult.

      The Western Samoans, whatever their legal status, tend to do most of the physical work in American Samoa.

  • dexitroboper

    There’s an arrangement like this in the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/torres_strait/

  • STH

    I can’t find the reference now, but I recall reading that Scotland and France had a treaty for a while that enabled them to go back and forth freely. 1400s, I think?

  • I find this really interesting. Can you post on the subject as you read through the works?

  • LFC

    Since the 17th century, the France-Spain boundary has run through the middle of the Cerdanya valley, a small region in the eastern Pyrenees: for the historical perspective on it, see P. Sahlins, ‘Boundaries:The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees’ (1989; paperback 1991). I wouldn’t be surprised if there were de facto or de jure free passage (i.e. no passports or other formalities to speak of) betw. the French and Spanish parts of the valley. A glance at Sahlins’ ‘Epilogue’ does not seem to answer the question directly. Still, if interested you could start there and then see what further/more current info is available. Might well be a matter of a few minutes; might not.

  • CanadianFoitball

    Until the US completely lost its mind over border security, the towns of Derby, VT, and Stanstead, Quebec, had rather free passage. That was necessary since the border ran down the middle of a street, Rue Canusa. And the border runs right through the middle of the local library and opera house.


  • dexitroboper

    @LFC The France-Spain border is now covered by the Schengen agreement, so there’s no border control any more (since 1995).

    @djw Do the Schengen Treaty and the Ireland-UK Common Travel Area count?

  • Alex Weiner

    Before the the current civil war Druze were the only non UN troops allowed to travel between Syria and Israel

  • HP

    ISTR that there was/is a lot of cross border movement by Aleuts across the Alaska/Kamchatka border, and that this was true throughout the Cold War. But I don’t know that this was ever sanctioned by treaty.

    Wikipedia is, sadly, no help. Perhaps an expert will pipe up; if not, at least it’s a lead to track down.

    • The border crossing was not officially sanctioned. There was a lot of illegal border crossing and trade in the 1920s and 1930s. But, later this become much more difficult. The Soviet Union had very strict security in the Far East region (this includes the Bering Strait region and Kamchatka) from 1937-38 onward when they deported the ethnic Koreans to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and established a “free fire zone” on the border. A 1982 law on frontiers made the region a special zone and Soviet citizens needed a special MVD pass in addition to the normal propiska to enter. Residents of the region needed to get a special stamp in their internal passports to reenter the region if they left it(See John Stephan _The Russian Far East: A History, 1994, pp. 279-280). So there was no free movement of Soviet citizens even between the Far East and other regions of the USSR. It was more tightly regulated by the MVD than other regions.

  • Jim

    Citizens of the previous U.S. Trust Territories in the Pacific were given the right to travel without restriction anywhere in the U.S. as part of the various independence agreements. I believe there are now more Palauan citizens living in the U.S. than in Palau.

  • Thlayli

    Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, the world’s smallest landmass with two jurisdictions. The parent countries (France and Netherlands) decided a long time ago that maintaining border control wasn’t worth the trouble.

  • jim

    I believe some groups that straddle the border between Papua New Guinea and West Papua/Irian Jaya (e.g., Waris) are allowed to cross back and forth. Not that there’s anyone to stop them in these remote areas.

  • RobNYNY1957

    There’s pretty much the entire EU. Lithuanians can move to Ireland, Portuguese can move to Sweden. Etc.

  • RobNYNY1957

    Also, the continental United States and Puerto Rico. But if an American citizen moves to Puerto Rico (as a resident, a complicated legal concept) he or she loses his voting rights for Congress and President. On the other hand, a Puerto Rican who moves to the 50 states, is then eligible to vote for Congress and President.

  • RobNYNY1957

    And I believe that the special relationship between Ireland and the UK, people can cross the border and have full citizenship, including voting rights. Within the EU, people can cross borders, but not vote or hold office.

    • Lurker

      You are a little inaccurate about the EU here. Within EU, a European citizen (a citizen of any EU country) is entitled to vote in the municipal and European parliament elections of her domicile, regardless of her citizenship. It is only the national elections where your franchise depends on your nationality.

      The same applies to office-holding: a European citizen is also eligible to the municipal offices of his domiciles, as well as to be elected the European parliament from his domicile.

      The European citizen is also eligible to enter the civil service of any EU country. Only law enforcement, judicial service, foreign office, state security and military positions may have the requirement that the applicant is a citizen.

  • RobNYNY1957

    You might also consider the topic in the contexts of empire and colonialism. Within empires, movement from one part to another is often quite possible. Colonies often reverse-colonize the colonizer.

  • LFC

    A useful bk, perhaps, on the geographical aspects of this whole topic:

    A. Diener and J. Hagen eds. Borderlines and Borderlands: Political Oddities at the Edge of the Nation-State (Rowman & Littlefield, 2010)

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