On September 22, National Voter Registration Day, we asked our supporters to sign our petition urging lawmakers in Congress to pass the Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA) — are we are pleased to report that hundreds responded.
Running Strong for American Indian Youth joins with the Lakota People’s Law Project which stated “The right to vote is sacred, and all Native people must have a voice in our democracy.”
An article posted in September “Native American Voters Deserve to Have Their Voices Heard” on the website zora.medium.com noted that when Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Sharice Davids (D-KS) made history in 2018 as the first Native American women ever elected to Congress, “it symbolized the collective journey of Indigenous people who’ve lived on these lands for millennia.
“Now the congresswomen are raising their voices in tandem with fellow lawmakers, advocates and community members to urge Indian Country to participate in the November general election.
“Indeed, much is at stake for the nearly 6 million people — about 2 percent of the population — who identify as American Indian or Alaska Natives, per the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey.”
Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, stated at the annual State of Indian Nations address in February that “The United States must…protect the right of Native people to participate in the American political process against voter suppression — suppression tactics that are meant to marginalize their voice — and it must include tribal governments as equal players in the administration of elections across this country.
“This is what we demand — and this is what we deserve. We will settle for nothing less, and we will exercise our rapidly growing political power and voice in Washington and at the ballot box against any and all who fail to meet this standard.”
And, adds Jacqueline De León, a staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund, “The first people on the land should not be the last to vote.”
While it has always been challenging for Native Americans to vote on vast, rural reservations, it is especially so this year as election officials adapt to changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Native vote is critical in congressional districts and states such as North and South Dakota, Alaska and the Southwest,” the article states. “Yet current voting systems often depress Native turnout.”
De León also notes that 44 percent of eligible Native Americans are not registered to vote, “meaning that there are more than 1 million potential Native votes unaccounted for.”
Native advocates have called on Congress to address the voting issue. In March 2019, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) reintroduced the Native American Voting Rights Act. Both Haaland and Davids are also among dozens of co-sponsors.
Sadly, so far, the legislation hasn’t moved past the committee stage on Capitol Hill, but Udall, Haaland and others aren’t giving up.
We at Running Strong cannot predict when the long-overdue legislation will be passed in Congress, but we do know that on that fateful day we will be celebrating along with millions of Native Americans throughout Indian Country.