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Beware the Voices of Political Assimilation

A column by Ray Cook about the dangers of American Indians voting in U.S. elections.
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A Haudenosaunee orator and representative to Nations has said that “sovereignty is the act thereof.”

Sovereignty is action, and it’s through our actions that people come to understand our sovereignty (our original free and independent existence).

In a state of liberty, individuals choose what actions will define their personal existence. But, governments do not have that luxury. Governments are not free, nor endowed with liberty and are not individuals. They make way for freedom and clear the way for individual liberty or they get in the way and obstruct liberty. 

The Haudenosaunee, as a general rule and certainly as governments, do not participate in another government’s election processes. Those are not sovereign acts.

In that paradigm, it is bad strategy for a Native government or national Native representative organization to urge their people to participate in another government’s election. The cost is too high.

Not to ignore the current relevancy of America’s Congress on tribal realities, but, wouldn’t voting in Congressional elections and Presidential elections be the equivalent to accepting as truth the plenary power they mistakenly claim to have over us? Of course it does.

The reality is that we already have representatives and we elect them on a regular basis utilizing Tribal election rules and laws. It is the job of our elected representatives to protect our nations and our resources from harm and to promote our survival, and ensure our prosperity. That is not the job of another government's Congress. Voting in American elections does not empower us, it accomplishes quite the opposite; it politically assimilates us.

We hear Native people of position urge their fellow Natives to be Americans and vote in the elections of the United States. To justify participating as Americans in American elections their argument comes down to something as silly as, “Congress will listen to us if they see us as voters, as their constituents.” But, the reality is at that moment, in the eyes of America, we become indistinguishable from them.

That's it? Voting in their elections is our new currency? A single and solitary vote? What about our holdings of land (we are still the second largest land owner in the U.S.), and our gold, silver, coal, oil, uranium, other minerals and water? Are those not currency enough to hold the attention of Congress? Of course they are.

So, what the Washington Indians are saying is they and our Tribal representatives and organizational representatives are failing to strategically manipulate the American Congress’s attention using our wealth. If that is indeed the case, then we need to find ourselves smarter strategists.

Could we be better served if we manipulate our collective markets (think of the tens of millions of people who frequent Native shops, gas stations and casinos) to vote for our favored American candidates and policies? Of course we would.

If we would put as much energy into making friends with Americans as we put into making friends in D.C., we may actually have a shot at influencing Congress and their elections without jeopardizing what remains of our sovereignty.

Sovereign Native nations voting to gain the attention of Congress is a dead end, a distraction from our best efforts to speak to America on the level playing field of Nations. And, as we should all know by now, Nations do not speak to Congresses or Parliaments. They speak to heads of states. To do any less are not actions of a sovereign.

To vote as Americans sends a mixed message. If we strive to live a free and independent existence, does voting as Americans surrender that existence? Certainly as governments of real nations it does. After that act of voting do we still remain a sovereign and distinct people, or do we become dark Americans, a minority in a sea of many?

The head of one national Native organization (NCAI) publically talks as an "American citizen" and in terms of "our government," "our president" (Obama), and "our constitution." While that may be his personal view, it’s not a responsible manner to speak as head of a diverse national organization. Not all members share that view, but when you speak that way you give the false impression that everyone who is part of that organization has the identical perspective as the "leader."

A price comes with American citizenship and voting in American elections. The price to vote is taxation and a significant portion of our original free and independent existence. Not the limited sovereignty of the IRA or the limited sovereignty of Federal recognition, though those will surely be the first to perish never to be returned should our governments continue to pursue the “get the Indian out to vote strategy”.

Beware those voices of political assimilation.

Those who present the American voting strategy on a national stage are, to put it kindly, reckless and need to be reminded of our best interests.

Indian country needs the kind of representatives who understand that not everything is negotiable and not everything is eligible for compromise, least of all our sovereignty, not for gaming or the attention of the American Congress.