Voting and Native Americans


I am a Native American woman, and I will be participating in the early vote. America is a country that is viewed as the model for democracy, until now. I’m watching the wave of current political events that could bring down that fragile and fractured republic. These things lingered in my mind as I cast my votes. Also, the vision of my ancestors, curiously watching as strangers landed on their shores, bringing baggage from their homelands in England. The baggage was not of personal belongings, but of deep trauma made of political, religious, and socioeconomic oppression and persecution. These people and their hopes for a better life and great riches, was the stuff of my ancestors’ greatest nightmares.


It is told in our history books that the reasons for the English Immigration to our lands was to escape religious and political prosecution, and starting a new life in chance for prosperity, which included land. Interesting how, even today, history has not taught us how harmful it is to oppose our ideologies on others. As their numbers increased, the rights of the people who already inhabited the land, decreased. Imagine: people who came from a different country were able to obtain the power to decide the fate of original nations.

  • In 1823 the Supreme Court handed down a decision which stated that Indians could occupy lands within the United States, but could not hold title to those lands. Tribes were “subordinate to the United States’ “right of discovery.”
  • In 1887, conditional citizenship was granted to Native Americans who relinquished all their cultural ways, including their native languages.
  • In 1890, the Indian Naturalization Act is passed, which deems Native Americans eligible to apply for citizenship.
  • In 1924, the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act gave the right to citizenship to Native Americans who were born in the United States. Individual states, however, could still deny them the right to vote.

To be clear, Native American issues are not about civil rights, as much as they are about law, and how they have been consistently broken by the ones who created and passed them, time after time. “There are five kinds of law in America: common law; criminal law; constitutional law; statute law; and treaty law. The agreements that the United States made with the tribes were legal agreements. If you’re a nation of laws, then you have to respect this. And if you don’t respect these treaties, then we get that you’re not really a nation of laws. It’s all about the rule, and if you don’t adhere to that then it’s all bullshit.” John Trudell, musician and American Indian Movement activist.


I cast my vote, not only for tribal elections, but every election that I am eligible for: county, state, country. It took me awhile to realize that distance doesn’t protect us from decisions that aren’t in our best interest. For example, in August, 2013, in my home state of North Carolina, a voter identification law was put into law, which limits the kind of identification we can use at the polls, and required a photo ID. Though this photo ID was later deemed as unconstitutional, the fight goes on. Those in power are using the tried-and-true fear strategy once again in an attempt to get this component restored. It’s working. They argue, “anyone can get a photo ID these days? They assume people are simply, lazy, or want to abuse the system through fraudulent voting.


Challenges to tribal members are nearly insurmountable. They deal transportation barriers, coupled with high poverty rates, which present challenges getting to the polls and actually having enough, “disposable income” to afford the trip. Native Americans are also not conditioned to get out and vote. They didn’t fully gain the right to vote in their states until 1957. Due to social and socioeconomic issues, some tribal members lack the ability to obtain a proper, legal birth certificate, or they do not have a street addresses (required via the voter ID law).


Election law experts weigh in on voter fraud, saying it is rare, and when it does occur, it happens most through mail-in ballots, which are not subject to the voter ID laws. Interestingly, absentee voters tend to be older and whiter than in-person voters. According to a 2012 trend analysis, conducted by Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida, nearly half, or 46 percent, of mail-in voters were aged 60 and older, and more than 75 percent were white. Older, white Americans generally are also more likely to vote Republican.


All this information floods my brain and brings pangs of sorrow to my heart. However, if I am to honor the sacrifices and struggles of my ancestors, I must vote. The right to vote ensures the stabilization of a democratic society. None of which really come from people in power-I refer you back to the current political climate. This kind of society will only survive by people like you and me. People who just want to be treated fairly and honorably.


“If any group of people face injustice and are denied their rights, then there is no freedom or justice for any of us. I would sing more of this land but all of God’s children ain’t free.” Johnny Cash, Musician.


Let’s do this!


Sources cited

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