Washington state tribes, leaders kick off Get Out the Vote effort

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SEATTLE - Washington state tribes have sent an early signal that they are going to be major players in the 2008 presidential and state elections, as well as the 2007 state and local elections. Together with Indian political experts and urban leaders, the tribes have decided to form a non-partisan political initiative called Native Vote Washington.

The purpose of Native Vote Washington is threefold - first, to increase American Indian voter participation in Washington; second, to inform Washington voters on how candidates for office stand on Native issues; and third, to recruit more Native people into running for office and serving in local Democratic, Republican and Independent parties.

The effort started earlier this year with a formative meeting called by Washington state Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent, both American Indians. The meeting was held during the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians meeting at the Port Madison Indian Reservation.

The leaders of Native Vote Washington hope to get representation from all 29 tribes in the state.

On June 21, the Tulalip Tribes hosted the most recent Native Vote Washington coordinators' meeting, which included tribal leaders and advocates such as McCoy, Julie Johnson, Deborah Parker George, Craig Bill, Renee Swan-Waite, Blanchard Matte and Brooke Keller. The coordinators met to discuss and reach agreement for initial voter targets, create accurate

tribal voter identification records, and create an effective outreach message to reach first-time voters. They also conducted a short workshop session with breakout groups reporting back on brainstorming efforts to identify and target Native voters.

The Native Vote Washington coordinators also began laying the plans for a statewide Get Out the Vote campaign that would include a tour bus, concerts, rallies and information booths at pow wows and festivals such as Seattle's famous Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow.

In addition, the Native Vote Washington coordinators also delegated responsibilities to members for the upcoming July meeting at the Lummi Nation. Those new duties include presentations on the Washington state caucus process, how to become a precinct captain, working with tribal enrollment officers to create voter databases, designing a logo, and how to coordinate with urban Native voters.

McCoy said at the meeting that ''now is the time to get this done. Last fall, our tribes helped vote in four Indians to the state House and Senate. We can do a lot more, and this is where it starts.''