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Kalle Benallie
ICT

Indigenous voters across the country are considering their options of who to vote for and why. The way they vote, by mail or at the polls may also differ from state to state.

With the 2022 midterm election soon approaching on Nov. 8, the #NativeVote22 is in full swing. ICT asked Indigenous voters what issues they find most pressing, where they plan to vote and if it’s accessible to them.

Southwest region

In Arizona, Fermina Joe Desiderio, Navajo, said she votes for someone who is going to represent the interest of tribal communities through their plan of actions.

“I try to focus on, is it going to help our tribal nations and that’s how I cast my decisions or make my decisions on who I’m going to vote for,” she said.

Desiderio said it’s easy to vote while living in an urban area like Phoenix, but it’s harder for her mother living on the reservation. Her mother has to drive 20 miles to the nearest voting location and depending on if the weather affects the roads.

She plans to vote in person.

Julie Allison, Navajo, emphasizes water rights, education and police force as the issues that are important to vote for.

“I think we need to tell our candidates of our needs and so that our needs can be met,” she said. “I feel like when I vote, my needs are met and the candidates listen to me.”

Allison has already mailed her ballot for the Navajo Nation elections and plans to vote in person in Chandler, Arizona, where she resides. 

Laura Medina, Grand Traverse Band Ojibwe, said she plans to send her ballot by mail which is partially because of the housing crisis affecting her living location.

“I had to resort to getting a post office to just be able to vote, which costs a lot of money,” she said. “I know with a lot of relatives [who] are suffering from the same scenario, trying to secure housing. That will be a huge disadvantage to people getting their vote out there.”

Medina said her community input influences her voting and speaking with Indigenous people who follow politics, but growing up people discouraged voting because it meant participating in the colonization of Native people. Yet, her close friend’s grandfather is Harry Austin, who helped push the right for Natives to vote in Arizona.

“For me it’s a little more personal. If I don’t I’m disrespecting her and her family and the work that he did,” she said.

Medina added although she’s critical of leaders and politics in Arizona, she’s motivated to vote from seeing the BIPOC impact of the 2020 election.

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In New Mexico, Kyle Robertson, Navajo, plans to travel back to Arizona to vote in person. She said she knows others find the process of voting to be difficult.

However, she sees the value of voting due to Indigenous leaders like Interior Secretary Deb Haaland being in office.

“It is very valuable to people because like Haaland said it is important because there’s a lot of leaders out there like Trump. He just didn’t care about Indigenous people. Now that she’s in the office it’s much better because it really makes a great impact on Native Americans especially because now she let out the Federal Indian Boarding School Act,” Robertson said.

Midwest region 

In South Dakota, Christopher Eaglebear said he looks to vote for issues that will make it less challenging for the future generations and to vote for a trustworthy leader who maintains their word.

He said he finds it easy to vote, especially if you feel your vote matters.

“Especially me for a long time, I didn’t feel like our voice[s] matter. I didn’t feel like our vote mattered because in the last election, throughout Ms. Noems’ term we had things that we voted on that we got clear that the state wanted, but she turned around and went against her own word. She said that she wouldn’t interfere with the voters of South Dakota, yet she did,” Eaglebear said.

He plans to vote in person.

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Lafwan Janis, Oglala Lakota, said some of the issues that are important to her are women's rights and the economic development of marijuana laws.

She feels voting information isn’t easy to access which in turn affects early voting, people getting rides to the polls and knowing what precincts they’re in.

“I feel like the information can be hard to find and navigate on our local and state websites,” Janis said. “I’m a big supporter of helping get the information and getting people registered too.”

She plans to vote in person and early.

Western region

In Washington, Katrina May, Diné and Laguna Pueblo, said healthcare and education are the most important issues to her due to her family and the work they do.

She said she feels voting is accessible to her. One reason is because Washington sends ballots in the mail as soon as you register.

“I get reached out to every once in a while about voting as well,” she said.

May plans to vote by mail.

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In Alaska, Caroline Nuglene, Iñupiaq, said subsistence rights for Alaska Natives and tribal sovereignty are important to her. 

“I have my voter registration card ready and I’ve been voting at the same place for many years now,” Nuglene said.

She plans to vote in person.

Jaime Galvan, Iñupiaq, said education is the biggest issue for her when looking to vote because she works in the field and her son goes to school.

She said it is accessible to vote but doesn’t think people do enough research about candidates and topics.

“I don’t think people understand what to vote for and know all the logistics behind what it is or who you’re voting for. I think that’s the biggest thing. I’m fairly young but I have to look more into it in order to know who I’m voting for,” she said.

Galvan plans to vote in person.

Kathleen Leu, Algaaciq, said fish and utilizing and protecting resources are issues that people are looking for to vote on.

“I’m fortunate enough to work for a company who will give me some time off to vote,” Leu said.

She plans to vote in person.

Kealoha Torres, Iñupiaq and Tlingit, said domestic violence and sexual assault are issues that will drive him to the vote.

He is part of a wellness warriors group that meets weekly to try to address the high domestic violence rate.

“My mom taught me how to vote since I was 18. It’s what our country does,” Torres said.

He plans to vote in person. 

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McKenzie Allen-Charmley, Dalton Walker, Joaqlin Estus, Marina Van Pelt and Stewart Huntington contributed to this report.

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