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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today

With so much at stake for Indian Country in the upcoming election, Native artists are helping to get the message out in creative ways.

In partnership with Illuminatives and the Native Organizers Alliance, designer Bethany Yellowtail, Northern Cheyenne/Crow, is selling a line of “Natives Vote” merchandise at Yellowtail is one of the most visible Native designers, bringing her feminine designs to the mass market and selling original, handmade designs by other Natives.

The Natives Vote line consists of unisex T-shirts, masks and tote bags — plus kits with all three — designed by Yellowtail and other Native artists. Proceeds will benefit the two organizations.

According to its website, the Native Organizers Alliance is a training and organizing network dedicated to building the capacity of tribes, traditional societies and community groups to make transformational change.

“The Native Organizers Alliance (NOA) supports grassroots-driven social change rooted in Native traditional practices and values to advance sovereignty and the health and well-being of rural and urban Native communities and reservations across Indian Country,” the site says.

Its Natives Vote is a campaign to achieve a historic Native voter turnout in the 2020 election. Natives Vote joins community organizers and original artwork from well-known Native artists, including Yellowtail; Steven Paul Judd, Kiowa/Choctaw; Kyle Bell, Creek-Thlopthlocco Tribal Town; and Josué Rivas, Mexica/Otomi.

Judd’s design for the Natives Vote line shows a masked couple in vintage sepia with a child in full fringed, beaded, feathered regalia, dropping off their ballots at a mailbox in the plains.

“Our communities have untapped power because of our history, our ancestors — we must use it in many ways from the streets to the ballot box,” says Crystal EchoHawk, executive director of Illuminatives. “Exercising our grassroots political power is crucial to rebuilding what we’ve lost and preparing the future for the next seven generations."

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In a separate effort, work by Jetsonorama “Chip” Thomas, African American/Lumbee, appears in a poster that will be available for downloading and distributed to local voting organizations across the country by the Mana Urban Arts campaign Project 270

Project 270 is an effort to increase voter awareness and turnout, particularly among Millennials and Gen Z voters – ages 18 to 38 – by flooding the country with “Get Out The Vote” images, posters, billboards and other art in the three weeks prior to Election Day. The project plans to cover all 50 states, with the aim to get out critical information through a creative medium and motivate young voters to show up on Nov. 3.

Thomas is a photographer, public artist, activist and physician who has been working between Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon on the Navajo Nation since 1987. He coordinates the Painted Desert Project, a community-building project that has become a constellation of powerful murals across the Navajo Nation painted by artists from across the rez and beyond.

Thomas’ striking poster design is of a woman’s face, a black mask drawn across her eyes and words that reflect “Be the change.”

He says, “I get it that electoral politics is really poly tricks, dysfunctional poly tricks at that. But this election is a big one; there's sooo much at stake. I said that about 2016 too, but for reals – this one is the one.”

Thomas’ poster, and all imagery created for the project, will be made available to the public, for free, via digital download that can be sized for sharing on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Project 270 will mass-produce posters and send them to established local voting groups in each state.

The goal is to provide 1,000 posters per state to local organizations, to give them away at rallies and on college campuses and to wheat-paste them around high-trafficked urban areas. All of the printed materials will include QR codes that will direct their audience to voting sites.

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Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, The Grammy Museum, The Queens Museum, and has produced three films on Native musicians.

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