How we are building Indigenous power at the ballot box

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Protesters supporting tribal sovereignty laws gather at the State House in Augusta, Maine in April 2022 (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Today, on Indigenous Peoples Day and every other day, the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island are thriving – resistant and resilient to the ways society tries to silence us.

Indigenous peoples lead, organize, create, educate, innovate, advocate and thrive – on Capitol Hill, in Hollywood, on reservations, rural and urban communities. We’ve made incredible strides in representation, breaking into industries like media and entertainment that have long perpetuated our erasure. We stand for storytelling disrupting native-created content like Reservation Dogs, Rutherford Falls, and Prey.

Indigenous peoples broke records in 2020 by voting in unprecedented numbers, tipping the scales in many generation-defining elections, and made history with the first and most Indigenous peoples elected to state legislatures. , Congress, and the President’s Office. Today, on Indigenous Peoples Day and in the November elections, we are building power in all sectors of society and in all regions of the country.

For too long, despite our major contributions to this country, we have been rendered invisible or distorted in popular culture and media. The offensive and stereotypical Indigenous characters we see on our screens, the grossly derogatory Indigenous mascots, and the toxic misrepresentations of Indigenous peoples in the K-12 education system are all modern forms of racism against Indigenous peoples. .

Society has always made decisions about and for Indigenous Peoples without our input, but Indigenous Peoples no longer tolerate or settle for erasure. We are reclaiming our power and voicing our concerns on key issues that concern all Americans like climate change, health care, systemic racism, inflation, cost of living and other kitchen table issues by through our votes. Indigenous peoples want and need to be heard and represented at all levels of government.

Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy. Voting puts power back in the hands of ordinary people, allowing us to elect leaders who truly reflect us and our voices, experiences, concerns, hopes and dreams. By voting, we disrupt the status quo. This is why Indigenous, Black and Brown communities only had the right to vote nearly 60 years ago. It’s also why in 2022, we continue to see the disenfranchisement and suppression of voters from communities of color. Voting is power, and one thing is certain: the power of the Indigenous vote cannot and should not be underestimated.

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 “granted” indigenous peoples the right to vote on paper, but certainly not in practice. Policy decisions by state and local governments, such as refusing to place polling stations near tribal communities and reservations, and requiring Indigenous peoples to take literacy tests or pay poll taxes, created barriers to access and prevented many Indigenous peoples from voting. It was not until the 1960s that indigenous peoples were guaranteed the right to vote in all states.

But the struggle for native suffrage is not a distant story, it is happening right now. Indigenous peoples continue to face more barriers to voting than any other community of color and regardless of these obstacles, Indigenous voters were instrumental in the outcome of the 2020 election – shattering the false narrative that the Indigenous vote is too small or insignificant. Our 2022 Aboriginal Futures Survey of nearly 5,000 Indigenous people from 49 states, found that 84.7% of participants voted in the 2020 elections and 79.7% plan to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. All candidates from each party must pay attention to the indigenous electoral bloc.

Elections are now increasingly won by very slim margins and in key elections – every vote counts, and dismantling barriers to voting is all the more crucial. Many tribal reservations do not have traditional addresses recognized by the USPS, which can cause problems obtaining the correct photo ID to vote in some states, as tribal IDs are not an acceptable form of identification. Others have to travel long distances to be able to vote. These laws impact Indigenous people living on reserves where access to polling places and transportation makes voting disproportionately difficult.

Ahead of the midterm elections, we need to step up and show our strength, and that means being creative in how we reach out to our communities. As part of our Indigenous Vote 2022 Campaign with Native Organizers Alliance, we leverage digital and local organizing to bring Indigenous people to the polls and work with renowned Indigenous artists Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute) and Ernesto Yerena (Yaqui/Xicana) to embed the action into art.

Through a virtual town hall, campaigns to get to the polls on skates or on horseback, our community is thinking of innovative ways to meet Indigenous people where they are.

This is only the second Indigenous Peoples Day recognized by the federal government, a reminder of how much the Indigenous community has had to fight to be visible in this country. Our progress has been immense – with more Indigenous representation in government than ever before – but we still have a long way to go.

secretary Deb HaalandRep. Sharice Davids, Rep. Marie Peltola, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Rep. Ruth Ann Buffalo, U.S. Treasurer Lynn Malerba, and so many other Indigenous women are breaking the glass ceiling for us, for our children, and for future generations. It’s up to us to vote for more people who look like us and will fight for our rights, our land and our sovereignty.

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