WASHINGTON - The election of Democrat Stephanie Herseth as the sole
Congressperson from South Dakota with a margin provided by Native voters
took place 80 years to the day after Congress passed the act giving
American Indians U.S. citizenship, noted Tex Hall, president of the
National Congress of American Indians.
Calling it "quite a coincidence," he said it showed "they can't take us for
granted any more."
Even before returns came in from the South Dakota special election, NCAI
issued a statement marking the June 2, 1924 enactment of the Indian
Citizenship Act, which gave the First Peoples the right to vote in national
elections. Hall said it should inspire American Indians to register and
vote in the November elections. He said they might well decide control of
the Congress, as well as provide the swing vote for the presidency in 17
"Among our people, there has been a long history of distrust for federal
and state election processes," Hall said. "For too long, we have faced a
series of attacks on our ways of life and the well-being of our people. Our
people have felt little or no power to shape their own future. That is
changing. Indian country has to be ready to go to the polls and reclaim the
right to determine our own destiny. If we don't, we lose. It's just that
NCAI noted that after the 1924 Act, some nations, such as the Hopi and the
Haudenosaunee Confederacy, declined to accept citizenship, regarding it as
an infringement of their sovereignty. But Hall said that he personally had
been raised to see the act as a significant source of power. He said it
passed "not that long ago," within the living memory of his father. "Before
1924, our tribe was disenfranchised."
Up until five years ago, he said, Native voters might have been taken for
granted, but a series of victories since then has shown their potential
power. "Now we hold the swing vote, I believe, to take control of the
Senate and the House," he said.