Story at a glance
- Two nonprofits have launched a campaign to mobilize Native American voters ahead of the November election.
- The coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected indigenous communities, has threatened voter participation.
- The campaign is raising awareness of the importance of voting and providing resources to get voters to the polls.
Two months before the November presidential election, two nonprofits are announcing a new campaign — not for a candidate, but for the voters.
Natives Vote, organized by IllumiNative and the Native Organizers Alliance, is pulling out all the stops, from commissioning art from at least 50 Native artists to featuring a collaboration between fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail and artistBethany Yellowtail, to get out the vote in their communities.
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“Our communities have untapped power because of our history, our ancestors—we must use it in many ways from the streets to the ballot box. Exercising our grassroots political power is crucial to rebuilding what we’ve lost and preparing the future for the next seven generations,” says IllumiNative Executive Director Crystal Echo Hawk, in a release.
The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected Native American communities as the federal government simultaneously takes the census, which has historically undercounted the indigenous population. Many Native American households lack access to the internet, where the census count is taking place for the first time ever, and in-person efforts were postponed due to COVID-19. Now, members of the community are concerned that they will be disenfranchised yet again at the ballot box.
The nonprofit is hosting two virtual town halls on Facebook about the importance of voting and representation on Sept. 22, National Voter Registration Day, and Oct. 14. A new website includes resources for Native American people to check their voter registration and make a plan to vote safely.
“First Peoples Worldwide has long worked on ensuring that Native Americans can exercise their right to vote, particularly given the challenges of this given moment. We recognize the importance of providing appropriate tools tailored to the unique needs of Native voters,” said Carla Fredericks, Director of First Peoples Worldwide, which partnered with the nonprofits to provide updated information on voting requirements in each state.
Voter registration efforts have also been affected by the pandemic, which has many Americans voting early instead. But for Native Americans who live on reservations, the logistics of voting can be discouraging.
“The right to vote was a hard-fought and recent victory for Native peoples and continues to be in jeopardy,” says Judith LeBlanc, Native Organizers Alliance Director. “In 2020, the Native vote is politically significant, our vote is key to changing the conditions in our country and our communities including guaranteeing the right to vote.”
In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled against Native Americans who had sued North Dakota for requiring an ID with a residential address rather than a P.O. box number to vote. While almost 5,000 Native Americans lacked such ID, some living in communities without residential street addresses, the state could still make such a restriction. That year, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall proposed the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2018 to address such issues, but the bill has not been approved by Congress.
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