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Native vote empowerment training

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MINNEAPOLIS - National Voice, a nonprofit Get Out the Vote (GOTV) group, is
co-hosting three Indian country training sessions this month with the
National Congress of American Indians.

The seminar dates are August 16 in Anchorage, Alaska; August 21 and 22 in
Green Bay, Wis.; and August 25 in Window Rock, Ariz.

Alyssa Burhans does Native American outreach for National Voice. It's a new
voter empowerment organization based in Minneapolis, created specifically
for the 2004 elections.

"We do not do partisan work at National Voice," Burhans said. "We help
people do voter registration projects and GOTV efforts. National Voice
doesn't develop any messaging. Our goal is to get people to the polls. As
the Native American organizing director, my job is, if you need training,
let's find you some training."

Burhans leads seminars that start by painting the big picture.

"First we talk about power and what power means to Indian people. We're not
doing it just for the presidential elections or a state race. Electoral
politics is one way in which power dynamics can change in a community."

The second part of the session focuses on developing voter projects
tailored to the needs of individual tribes. Burhans and two other trainers,
Eli Lee and Alicia Maldanado, were in Tempe, Ariz. last month.

Anita Bahnimptewa, the Hopi tribe's voter registrar, attended the training.

"We've just launched a campaign to register 3,000 Hopis for the upcoming
presidential election," Bahnimptewa said. "That training gave some insights
on how we can get our people to register."

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Bahnimptewa liked the idea of using promotional give-aways - bumper
stickers, buttons, "I Vote" stickers, or T-shirts - as an incentive to
register to vote. She also learned how to approach people and explain what
the campaign is about.

"No one has ever really done that out here," she said. "We are focusing on
explaining to them, in our language, what the whole purpose is for
registering to vote. I don't think anybody has ever really explained it
thoroughly so that they can get the idea of why we have to go out to vote."

Bahnimptewa has the only salaried position in the Hopi elections office.
She relies on the help of five volunteer Election Board members. In
general, funding is the biggest need of the GOTV groups. Although National
Voice does not provide money, it can help find donors.

"National Voice has a funding matchmaker," Burhans said, "where nonprofits
submit proposals for funding and foundations can access the database."

GOTV techniques are different for Native voters. Using telephone calling
centers to make thousands of "robo-dial" calls with machine-recorded
messages isn't the most effective way to reach them, given the relatively
small number of residential telephones in Indian country.

Other challenges include finding Indian voters spread out over a large
area. And in allotment situations, where non-Indian homes are dispersed on
reservation lands, it can be difficult to target the Native constituency.
Burhans said the solutions are doing voter outreach at community events and
working closely with those who know the tribal members.

"When we were in South Dakota on Pine Ridge for the primaries, it was
critical that tribal members were a part of the GOTV efforts. They could
look at names and know where this person and that person lives. If they had
given me a list of names and said your job is to hang door hangers and make
sure these people go to the polls, I would have had no idea where to go."

When this month ends, National Voice will shift attention from voter
registration to voting in November. But the GOTV training leaves a legacy
beyond Nov. 2. Burhans said that what one learns at Native Vote training
can later put tribal members in county government or on a school board.

"Nov. 2 is important but more important is what comes afterwards. How do we
take the capacity-building that we've done in the last year and a half, and
translate it into changing the power structures in communities? This type
of training can change both reservation and local governments."

For more information about the upcoming Native Vote training sessions, call
NCAI coordinators Cherie Ike and Gyasi Ross at (202) 466-7767.