LAWRENCE, Kan. - Throughout Oklahoma and Kansas, tribal leaders estimated they'd seen some of the highest numbers ever of Native American voters in the Southern Plains.
Kickapoo Chairwoman Nancy Bear said, "We tried to get everyone to the polls. We even sent buses out to get people so they would have a way to get in to vote."
Newly elected Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Brad Carson applauded efforts by the Cherokee Nation that brought record numbers of tribal members to the voting booths.
But perhaps the most surprising turnout among Native Americans has been with Indian country's newest voters.
Students at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence turned out in record numbers, thanks in part to efforts by the Student Senate. Although many experts predicted that Native American voter turnout would be low, particularly in the 18- to25-year-old categories, they were proved wrong, thanks in part to nationwide efforts of various student organizations.
Nine out of 10 students, interviewed at random in Stidham Student Union here, reported not only voting, but watching the unfolding political drama as well. Most were very well versed about the election process taking place and many were managing to keep up with the constant flow of information and their studies!
Conversation at the tables didn't concern extracurricular activities this past week. Instead students gathered around televisions and newspapers as they kept up with the latest news reports from Florida. There were lively discussions between students and staff members alike.
With more than 250 Indian nations represented, Haskell staff members and students voiced differing reasons for coming to the decisions they made in the presidential race. Some said they had heard friends had voted for Bush, but most said Gore had been the campus favorite.
Everyone interviewed said he or she wanted to see a fair election and many echoed the sentiments of staff member Lee Ann Martin. "I think they should start all over, with only two names on the ballots. They should do it all over, nationwide."
In scenes reminiscent of the 1960s, students debated the pros and cons of keeping the Electoral College and the legal maneuverings of the presidential hopefuls as they waited to find out what would happen next.
One student said it reminded her of a good soap opera that made her want to keep on watching. For others, the political outcome of the election was more than just exciting entertainment. Because they had voted, they believed they had a very real stake in the future of the United States.
A few students, like Fred Redwing, said they hadn't gotten absentee ballots. "I've been watching as much as I can, but I am trying to keep up with my studies." Redwing said.
Of those interviewed, 90 percent who had voted, voted for Vice President Al Gore, saying they feared what would happen in Indian country if Texas Governor George W. Bush won the election.
"I voted for Gore because he is more for the minorities. Bush is trying to push away the minorities," Nathaniel Emerson of California said. "In my family we're all Democrats."
Kwame Dwberry, Kiowa, said, "I voted anti-Bush. It's too bad that it's like this. I don't know if the Bush brother who holds Florida has caused a miscount or if Gore is just doing a great job trying to win. I really don't mind this being drawn out as much as I would mind Bush being the president."
Could the election actually be the now-forgotten Y2K Bug? Tonya Gooday, Fort Sill Apache, pondered that thought. "It seems in the year 2000, you could almost expect something like this to happen. I think it is a downer to see how society is turning out, even politics. It is a depressing situation."
Many students are beginning to see the possibility of political office for themselves and want to finish their education so they can make positive changes in Indian country.
They see issues that have to be addressed and several said they didn't want to keep decisions that affected them made only by non-Native Americans.
Student Senate President Walter Ahhaitty said he thought the whole election was crazy. "I haven't gotten to follow this like I would like to. It shows how important each person's vote is. I've always said that. In this one, because they are getting so nit picky, it shows just how important it is to get out and voice your opinion. I'm hoping Gore wins. There are Indians who voted for Bush. I feel sorry for them. They are just cutting their own throats."
Ahhaitty said the student senate pushed students to get out and vote, but he didn't have the campus vote totals. He added he was very pleased, "It was a good turnout."
Millie Tapedo, a university employee said, "I've been keeping up with it because it is very interesting. I voted for the man I believed would do the most for Native Americans. I think he will do the right thing for us."
"It blew my mind," Kristy Blackhorse, a Navajo from Arizona said. "I ran into people on campus and they said, 'I just wanted to stay out of it, so I voted for Nader.'
"What they don't know is that Nader had enough votes to hurt Al Gore."
Tapedo said she was hearing a lot more students talking politics these days and she hopes it will keep students interested and active in politics. "It's time that we quit staying out of it. It's time for us to be involved as Indian people."
"This was my first time voting," Blackhorse said. "I already think that Bush won, but I wonder why he is fighting this recount so."
Blackhorse said she believed the Electoral College is working, but believes Native people have to continue to stay involved. "Think of all these people who say their voice doesn't matter," Blackhorse said. "Just think if the people who didn't vote had. It would have really made a difference this time."