Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Lakota People’s Law Project
President Trump’s stunning admission last week — that he plans to cut off funding for the U.S. Postal Service to interfere with voting by mail — means that institutions underpinning our democracy are now under threat. That’s one reason the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has partnered with the Lakota People’s Law Project, Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) to make sure Congress passes the Native American Voting Rights Act (NAVRA).
“Come November, every available vote must be cast and all voices should be heard,” said Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project. “It’s critical to the future of our union for all American votes to count in a free and fair election. For far too long, Native people have been targeted for disenfranchisement. This is not acceptable, and we support every effort to further codify our inalienable rights into law.”
In 2018, two years after Standing Rock gained renown as the epicenter of Dakota Access pipeline resistance, many of its residents faced sudden disenfranchisement. A new Voter ID law passed in North Dakota required street addresses they didn't have. To combat that outcome, Standing Rock teamed with the Lakota People’s Law Project and other nonprofits on a get-out-the-vote effort that more than doubled turnout over the prior midterm election.
Now, its Tribal Council has acted to protect Native voters nationwide, unanimously passing a resolution in support of the Native American Voting Rights Act, authored by Senator Udall and Representative Luján. Luján said he hopes that a wide-ranging, bipartisan coalition will take the bill out of committee in the House and make it a law of the land.
“The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy. Unfortunately, in Native communities across the country, that right is under siege,” said Luján. “On top of geographic and linguistic barriers, restrictive and burdensome state voter registration requirements and ID laws are suppressing the Native vote. I introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act to remove these barriers by increasing access to voter registration and polling sites and authorizing the use of Tribal IDs for voting and registration purposes. I’m proud that this legislation has gained the support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and I look forward to working with them, the Lakota People’s Law Project, and with Tribal leaders from across the country to get this critical bill passed.”
According to Phyllis Young, who serves as the Lakota People’s Law Project’s Standing Rock organizer, Standing Rock and its allies won't only work to pass Native American Voting Rights Act this year. They'll also conduct another localized get-out-the-vote effort and train Standing Rock citizens as phonebank ambassadors to increase turnout on tribal nations throughout the country.
“North Dakota is the whitest state in the union. Facts,” said Young. “But, there are five Indigenous groups in North Dakota, and, as such, we can make a difference. We have made a difference, historically, in how we vote.”
Avis Little Eagle, who serves as a councilwoman for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said she has experienced disenfranchisement at the hands of a mostly white city council in McLaughlin, her home town on Standing Rock. That’s why she voted to back Native American Voting Rights Act as a stringent protection of the franchise for Native people across the United States.
“It’s just unfathomable that, in the year 2020 — almost 200 years after the United States. Constitution was in place — we’re here, still fighting for the protected right to vote,” said Little Eagle. “I bet you that mainstream people don’t even know that we, as Native people, face these issues.”
Senator Udall said that, though the right to vote is essential to American democracy, Native Americans have faced barriers at the ballot box for too long. “Every election cycle, state and local jurisdictions come up with new ways to deny Native Americans their constitutional right to vote. It’s more important than ever that we pass the Native American Voting Rights Act,” Udall Said. “It provides polling places with proper voting equipment within tribal lands. It requires tribal consultation if the state makes any changes to polling site locations. It establishes the National Native American Voting Task Force to ensure that tribes have the resources they need to carry out a full and fair election. We must ensure that the voices of Native communities, in New Mexico and across Indian Country, are counted and heard.”
As part of its resolution, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is petitioning Congress to hold hearings on Native voting issues. Its Tribal Chairman, Mike Faith, is also asking the general public to help raise the bill's profile. "Get ahold of your representatives and ask them to support the Act," said Faith.
For more information, and to support Standing Rock's call, visit www.lakotalaw.org/our-actions/pass-navra.
The Lakota People's Law Project operates under the 501(c)(3) Romero Institute, a nonprofit law and policy center.