Native Americans Urge Tribes to Vote; Citing Civic Emergency, Indian Leaders Push for Largest-Ever Number to Participate Tuesday

By Bryan, Susan Montoya | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Native Americans Urge Tribes to Vote; Citing Civic Emergency, Indian Leaders Push for Largest-Ever Number to Participate Tuesday


Bryan, Susan Montoya, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. A tribal newspaper in Arizona is publishing a detailed voter guide for the first time. A New Mexico pueblo is sending kindergartners home with get-out-the-vote buttons for their parents. Tribes in Wisconsin are reaching out to young adults with a Rock the Vote event.

Native American communities nationwide are working hard to tap about 3 million Native American voters, hoping to turn around low voter participation that has persisted in Indian Country for decades. The push is being headed by the National Congress of American Indians, the largest group representing Native Americans, which calls low turnout a civic emergency fueled by everything from language barriers and vast distances between polling places to high unemployment and poverty.

As we look at why our vote is so important, our political activism really is aimed at making sure that we can address critical concerns in our communities, said NCAI executive director Jacqueline Johnson Pata.

The NCAI and its partners are focusing on 18 states with high American Indian populations, and their efforts are not without challenge. The NCAI said in a recent report that voter ID laws could negatively affect participation this year in Native American and Alaska Native communities in 10 states Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington.

For example, in Alaska and Florida, tribal ID cards are not listed as acceptable forms of identification at the polls. In other states, address requirements pose difficulty for those tribal communities that lack street addresses. In Montana, Indians from the remote Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations sought an emergency order for satellite voting on reservations, arguing that the long distance they must travel to vote early, or register late, puts them at a disadvantage compared with white voters. A federal judge denied their request on Tuesday.

The NCAI is pushing this year for the largest Native vote in history, but experts agree achieving a high turnout will be difficult.

They require more engagement, more interaction, just to get them to the polls, said Montana State University political scientist David Parker. Get-out-the-vote campaigns on reservations are particularly time-consuming, he said, because some homes may have no Internet service or even television. There also are cultural barriers and the tribes tumultuous history with the federal government.

Still, tribal leaders hope this momentum will energize their people on Election Day. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are locked in a tight battle for the White House, and in some states, a few votes could give either candidate the margin of victory.

I think the stakes are high, said Laurie Weahkee, executive director of the Native American Voters Alliance, which has been canvassing pueblos, or tribal communities, in the Albuquerque area and talking to prospective voters on the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. …

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