Oct 12, 2012 - Your Right to Vote: Use It to Represent

Most often, society assumes that Native people were “given” the right to vote in 1924 when the government signed the Indian Citizenship Act. However, what most people aren’t aware of is that act wasn’t passed until 1970. As it stands, we are taught through an education school system comprised of colonized history lessons. They are taught from a white perspective that reeks of privilege most often. What is left out are actual facts- such as American Indian and Alaska Native citizenship was not actually “given” to Native people and historically not all states ensured voting for Native people.

During this election year, it’s imperative to practice your right to vote, especially considering that’s how the government system operates, and how long it took for Native people to fight for the right to vote. As I listened and watched the Vice Presidential candidates debate last night, I was struck by how marginalized communities are seldom mentioned in national debates. Granted the Native population is the smallest minority of “Others”, we make up a significant vote for states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Washington, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Not to say other states aren’t important, but the significance is based on the populations of Native people in those states.

With a unique status that is like no “other” racial ethnic group, Native people have the oldest “government” system in the country. Through history we’ve learned that the Declaration of Independence was based on the Iroquois Confederacy. If indeed the government used the Iroquois Confederacy governance model, imagine what “democracy” would truly look like for our country.

American Indians have a unique and sovereign status that is political and acknowledged through federal policies such as treaties and Executive Orders. Whenever one hears the terms federal trust responsibility, it is rooted on the knowledge that the US government is held to that responsibility. Making it important to be aware and informed of governmental policies, whether related to reform in education, health, or any other policy, as tribes, it IS our responsibility to hold the government accountable and voting gives one a voice.

The unique status is what tribal governments base their right to speak up for justice or the social injustices rather when it comes to reservations and tribal members. Acts of Congress such as the Violence Against Women Act were created and developed due to our right to vote as a “registered” voters. Although the act is national in scope, on the local level, it does effect and influence law enforcement to protect society. As I draw this picture of why voting is important, I hope you can see that, voting is also a privilege. If you don’t vote, I do believe you have a right to choose and voice your opinion, however, when it comes to social injustices committed against our people, that are related to health, education, taxation, natural resources related to hunting, fishing, and wildlife, in the end, our communities need your voice.

As a Nimiipuu, I come from a family that hunts, fishes, and gathers seasonally.

Celilo Falls before Dalles Dam

Celilo Falls before Dalles Dam

My family is front and center in speaking up about an oppressive governmental system knowing all too well, if they don’t speak up they will go unheard and remain invisible. With a grandfather who left a political legacy, I can not help but look at what one of my brothers believes was coercion and as a result, our regional tribes lost one of the most precious areas to us, the Celilo Falls. Today, Celilo Falls is all but a memory and something my generation only wishes we could have seen. The sadness in our heart connects us to our ancestors who fished there for thousands of years and is only mentioned in early American history as a major trade center. A major trade center that was extensive for the Northwest region and where prized trade items such as the dentillium shells, fish, meat, hides, and blankets were traded and shared with our relatives. But I digress.

Considering last nights Vice Presidential and last weeks Presidential debate, it was not hard at all to

see how the Indigenous community is seldom, if at all mentioned in national debates. After last nights VP debate, social media commentary mentioned the use of the word “Tribal” and how so many of us Native people jump on a bandwagon just because we were mentioned by a candidate making it appear in what I perceive is all too nice and staged. Aside from Obama’s passivity last week, how many times have we been forgotten and how could we not speak up? The truth makes me think more about why we seek candidates who mention Native people and the invisibility factor. For too long Native people have been overlooked, forgotten, left out, and excluded for the obvious reasons of population. We are, after all, the minority of minorities right? That should NOT be the reason why anyone doesn’t vote, nor should it deter anyone from considering their vote as unimportant because one won’t be heard. If anything, it’s because there is an invisibility factor that one needs to vote!

When placed in the context of the right to vote and the unique status of our Native community it’s imperative to vote and in my opinion, as Indigenous people, we are also caretakers of a land base that we inherited from our ancestors who died fighting to preserve a way of life. Simply put, that’s exactly why we should vote! Not only did our ancestors die fighting for the right to keep their land base, they also fought so that their descendents would continue a way of life they knew. If your ancestor died fighting to preserve a land base, shouldn’t that mean something? Granted, today we have national issues such as abortion and a women’s right to choose that hit home on reservations and the border towns that are near by, keep in mind, our ancestors fought a colonizing beast while dying of small pox, influenza, and malnutrition that was intentional and deliberate. The federal policies withheld immunizations and healthcare. It’s no different today when we hear about Obama Care. Congress would love to see the federal trust responsibility ended. After all, it would free up more federal dollars and there would be no Indian Health Service agency within HHS (Health, Human Services).

My point, in this critical time: if you haven’t registered to vote and your state has not closed that window of opportunity, please, register and get out to vote!

Last Real Indians