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Vote: It’s Your Right and Your Responsibility

To all our non-Native friends, this November is Native American Heritage Month and the month when we as a nation celebrate Thanksgiving. It is also the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre and the month in which we elect a President. I would ask for your discretion this month, as many of my Native friends may be a bit touchy this month. I know I will be.

Many of us find it ironic and stereotypical to be thought of during the “Thanksgiving Month” and largely ignored the rest of the year. It’s as if we’re a favorite relative who only shows up for special occasions. In reality we are everywhere every day of the year. Many of us serve in the military, serving at a higher per capita rate than any other group in America. Many Tribes come from a strong warrior tradition and a firm belief in protecting what is ours. Our culture, our languages, our heritages, our homes, our families, just as our ancestors did during those hundreds of years when strangers were flooding our land and taking our resources. Today we protect all Americans, and we ask that you, in turn, protect us with your vote.

Educate yourself on the reality of American history, realize that all Natives do not look alike, don't believe anything Donald Trump says about Natives (or anything else for that matter) and consider that the wealth you have is based upon the land and resources given up, stolen, swindled and otherwise largely removed from our care as Native people. We don't begrudge wealth; it just isn't (for the most part) something that we strive for.

In my culture, our chiefs are required to care for our community members, they cannot refuse to help us if we ask and they have the resources. I like this difference in our cultures very much. In fact, I am very proud of my people that most would help others whether they were from their community or not. That's how we are, community focused, not so much individually focused.

This month also marks the 148th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre. A dark time in our nation’s history where we as Native people were asked by the US military to camp near Fort Lyon in Colorado. Our men went east to hunt for buffalo. While they were gone we were attacked and women, children and elders were brutally murdered by those who later sought to “civilize” us. I don’t carry a grudge for what has happened to my people, but I do carry those memories of what my people have given up, all of my Native people. Millions of acres, but more importantly, millions of lives have been lost.

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Many of us are cavalier about the election, some claiming, “It doesn’t matter whether or not I vote.” I’m here to tell you that it does matter, it matters to every relative that you have. If we elect someone who is not an ally then what will we have? More battles to come, battles occur in the courtroom today, but don’t pretend that they aren’t battles nonetheless. Who will help us protect our land if we don’t elect responsible leaders? Who will help us care for our children and elders who may live off reservation? Who will help stand with us to retain our sovereignty and our treaty rights?

Mitt Romney said, "There are 47 percent who are with him (Obama), who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

Native America, we are the 47 percent. We are entitled through our treaties, many signed under duress, entitled to health care, food, housing, education, hunting and fishing rights, etc. Frankly, I believe that every American is entitled to food, shelter and medicine and I wonder why anyone would believe otherwise.

As we near the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre and put the election behind us, please remember what these leaders promise you. Remember all the broken promises and broken treaties behind and beside and in front of us.

Remember that our people gave their lives so we could still be here and vote. Vote for your ancestors, vote for your people, vote for your community. Do it for the seventh generation. Protect all our people, not just your own. Thank you, that is all I have to say.

Renée Roman Nose is an activist, actress, Mother, poet, artist, comedian, anthropologist, and freelance writer who currently works for Northwest Indian College as an extension site manager for the Tulalip reservation site. She has appeared in films such as Cupcakes (2012), a short by Longhouse Media; an Indian Health Service production, Native It’s Your Game (2012) and Matt McCormick’s independent film, Some Days Are Better Than Others (2010).