Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today
It’s a good day to cast a ballot in Indian Country, according to Native voting advocates working to get out the vote.
Indian Country Today spoke with people from the Pyramid Lake Reservation in Nevada, home to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe; the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, home to the Ojibwe tribe; Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Wisconsin; and the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico.
Nearly everyone reported positive atmospheres in their polling places with high turnout and little to no voter interference.
Although Jeanine Blue Horse of the Washoe tribe has voted for years, her husband, Quentin, of the Rosebud Lakota tribe, has opted not to vote. But this year was different; voting was a family affair.
Jeanine and Quentin Blue Horse live in Sparks, Nevada, with their two daughters, Valerie, 18, and Janae, 19, who voted for the first time. They all traveled to the Pyramid Lake reservation to be among Native people, according to Jeanine.
“Quentin didn’t vote in the past because he thought it really didn’t matter,” Jeanine said.
“I finally convinced him to vote this year. I think he agreed because of everything that is going on in our country. We’re voting for change and felt it was important for our kids to see him vote as well,” she said.
“It really makes me proud to get them all out there and to understand how important it is.”
According to Jeanine, she is the one always preaching to the family about voting; she made sure her daughters read about the candidates and discussed their findings with the family before going to the polls
“I don’t want them to just pick anybody; I wanted them to be sure the candidates they chose aligned with what they think is important,” she said.
Will voting become a Blue Horse family tradition?
“Maybe. I think Quentin was surprised after all this time about how easy it was to vote,” Jeanine said.
According to voting rights advocate Janet Davis of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the tribe had to sue the state of Nevada to get a polling place on the reservation. Shortly before the 2016 presidential election, the tribe, with the help of Four Directions Inc., a Native voting rights advocacy organization, prevailed in federal court for polling places on their homeland.
Davis and other volunteers provide food for voters; traditional Paiute dancers also come out to dance at the polls.
“A lot of our young people are working at the polls this year; when voters see their own people here, they feel welcome,” Davis said.
In Minnesota, Winona LaDuke credited the homemade wild rice and buffalo egg rolls for driving in-person voting rates in her community of Pine Point on the White Earth Reservation.
LaDuke, of the White Earth Anishinaabe Nation, is a well-known environmentalist, economist and community organizer.
This year, she and others organized a voter advocacy organization called Ojibwe for Responsible Government, offering rides to polling places and free food.
“The egg rolls were a big hit. We also had tamales, but folks found them too spicy so we’re taking those back home,” she said.
People in Pine Point must drive 11 miles to vote, according to LaDuke.
“If you don’t have a car or gas money, car insurance or a license, you’re effectively disenfranchised from the voting process,’ she said.
Over 300 of Pine Point’s 430 residents are Native American, yet all elected offices in the township are held by non-Natives, according to LaDuke.
“We have counted several first-time voters among the folks we served so far today,” she said.
Dee Sweet, First Nations coordinator for Wisconsin Native Vote, was very impressed with the level of voter turnout in the region in and around the Red Cliff Band of Wisconsin Chippewa reservation. Sweet is a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.
“We’ve had about 90 percent voter registration in Bayfield County (where Red Cliff is located) and many Native people,” Sweet said.
“It’s just been a beautiful day so far, with temperature in the mid-70s. Overall, just a beautiful day to vote,” she said.
Western Native Voice’s 100 staff members were busy Tuesday in Montana giving people rides to vote in-person, as well as picking up ballots and delivering them to county election offices, according to Marci McLean, executive director of Native Voice. McLean is a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation.
“All of our staff have been deemed to be essential workers by tribes here since most of the counties have elected to do mail-in voting,” McLean said.
“We are also allowed to pick up ballots and deliver them to the county election offices; fortunately we have all had extensive COVID-19 safety training,” she said.
Although it’s a bit early to tell, it appears that Big Horn County, home to the Crow Reservation and Ft. Peck, may have record turnouts this election, according to McLean.
The Navajo Nation, Arizona and New Mexico
Manuel Fulton, Four Directions Inc. field organizer on the Navajo Reservation, and his crew have been knocking on doors in Window Rock, Fort Defiance and St. Michaels, Arizona, and in other communities asking if folks need a ride to the polls.
“We’ve got 17 drivers, and so far they each have appointments to take 17 to 18 people to the polls today,” said Fulton, a citizen of the Navajo Nation.
Fulton and OJ Semans, executive director of Four Directions Inc., picked up 90-year-old Marie Belone from Ft. Defiance and gave her a ride to the chapter house to vote.
“She was so happy and proud to vote. She said she’d voted in every election for the past 40 years,” Fulton said.
According to Fulton, Belone spoke only Navajo.
“OJ did an interview with her, and I translated,” he said.
“In Indian Country, voter advocates aren’t going out to strangers’ homes. They’re going out to the homes of family and friends. That’s why it’s important to have local people involved,” Semans said.
Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today
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