When Elections and Pow Wows Mix: Voter ID Card Amendment's Attack on Sovereignty in Minnesota

Politics permeated recent events on the Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota. Much of the discussion involved the Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment, which members of the Red Lake Political Education Committee feel is a violation of tribal sovereignty.

Visitors from around the United States and Canada came to the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota at the end August and early September with nothing but positive things to say about the experience.

For the first time in recent memory, the Red Lake Fair and Powwow and the Ponemah Labor Day Powwow were on following weekends. Red Lake's Fair and Powwow was held August 24-26, and the 40th Annual Labor Day Powwow came the following weekend August 31-September 3.

Politics Permeates

Being an election year brings many politicians to the reservation for these two annual events. This year, however, saw fewer candidates.

There are contests for president, U.S. Senate, and U.S. Congress to decide on by Election Day on Tuesday, November 6. A seat for 9th judicial judge is also on the ballot, along with state senate, state representative, county commissioner, and the Red Lake School board has six candidates vying for three seats.

In the non-partisan section, voters choose for 9th Judicial District Diana Sweeney or John Melbye. Red Lake also may choose who their next Beltrami County Commissioner will be, Tim Sumner or Quentin Fairbanks.

Unfortunately, the only politicians to show for both parades and powwows were Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate for State Representative Roger Erickson, and Red Lake Nation member Sumner, who is running for Beltrami County Commissioner. Both candidates participated in the parade and spent a good share of their time visiting with Red Lake voters at both powwows. Sweeney attended the Red Lake parade and powwow.

The Red Lake Political Education Committee (PEC) was visible at both powwows registering 200 new Red Lake voters. All new registrants received a PEC T-shirt and button that says Biinjwebinigedaa! (Let's All Vote) See a PEC member for your button.

PEC volunteers, in addition to registering voters, provided information on candidates and issues. The biggest issue according to PEC co-chair Gary Fuller is the proposed Minnesota Constitutional Amendment to require Voter ID cards. According to Fuller, the amendment is a direct attack on tribal sovereignty as tribal ID's will no longer be valid for voting.

"This is a blatant attempt at voter suppression," says Fuller. "It's a direct attack on elders, poor people, and Indian Nations, folks that might not find it easy to obtain a state issued Voter ID card. I encourage all Red Lake members to vote, and then to vote NO on the Voter ID law."

Fuller goes on to explain that what the amendment doesn’t state on the ballot, is that the voter ID will be "state issued" and at a cost. The ID would require not only a photo, but an address which could be a big problem for anyone with a post office box, transients, etc.

Contact any Red Lake Political Education Committee member for more information on these candidates, issues, voter registration, and what you can do to get out the membership's vote so that Red Lake's voice will be heard loud and clear and with pride. "Red Lake almost has a responsibility to lead," noted Red Lake PEC co-chair Michelle Paquin Johnson.

The Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment

The Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment wants to change the constitution so all voters must present valid photographic identification before voting. The amendment also includes that the state of Minnesota must provide free photographic identification cards to any voters who do not have a photo ID. It also will permit voters who don't have photo ID to vote and submit a provisional ballot. The provisional ballot will then be counted if the voter can provide a photo ID.

The Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment would also end the process of "vouching," where another voter can vouch for another unregistered voter with a signed oath, enabling the unregistered voter to vote in the election.

The text of the Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment as it will appear on ballots is:

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?"

A vote of “Yes” would be a vote in support of changing the constitution, and require all voters to present valid photo identification before voting. Supporters of the amendment argue that this will improve election integrity, and reduce voter fraud.

A vote of “No” would be a vote against the amendment, and not change the constitution. The voting procedure in Minnesota would not be changed, and voters will be able to vote without presenting photo ID. Opponents of the amendment argue that voter fraud is very rare in Minnesota, and that requiring voters to present photo ID will make it harder for many people to exercise their right to vote. Minorities and seniors, two groups who are less likely to have a valid photo identification, are most likely to be affected.

What will happen if you don't vote on the Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment?

If you choose not to vote on the Minnesota Voter Identification Amendment, then your vote will be counted as a No vote.

Parades and Powwows

On Saturday, August 25, the Red Lake Bike Rally/Ride Against Youth Suicide, led off the Red Lake parade, an event held annually in conjunction with the celebration. Riders lined up at the Red Lake Fire Department for the Parade at 10 a.m., and were again the first in line to lead the parade.

Following the bikers were floats with Princesses and Braves who tossed candy that filled the streets, but only briefly, as kids scattered to pick up every single piece filling bags as if Halloween. Both Red Lake and Ponemah parades had contests for best in parade with categories such as best visitor, best local family, best business, and of course the ever popular “Rez Car.”

At Ponemah, the parade started near the Trading Post and moved to the powwow grounds going once around the outside of the ring before parking. This 40th Annual powwow received kudos from many participants and seems to be outgrowing itself. The powwow ring was often packed, while a small tent city sprang up filling every space around the powwow grounds.

The 40th annual powwow had a Facebook page with scores of comments raving about the experience. The powwow had more participants than this writer has ever seen before. According to powwow organizer Wayne Johnson, more than 1,000 dancers took part in the 1 p.m. Grand Entry on Saturday, and 700 souvenir T-shirts were given away.

Ponemah, Minnesota or Obaashiing is the most Native American census designated location in the United States by percent, 99.20 percent American Indian.