- By Levi Rickert
OPINION. Our Indigenous elders teach us the spring season is a time for new beginnings and renewal. After a long winter, spring brings forth Mother Earth’s beautiful greenery. It is the season to plant vegetable and flower gardens.
Unfortunately, this spring is not all blue sunny horizons and crocuses. Instead, the lingering ill effects of racism have continued into the season. Four days before the beginning of spring, a sick and evil man killed eight people at three Asian businesses, six of them Asian Americans. Last week, the trial of accused murderer and former Minneapolis police officer Derrick Chauvin brought back the horrendous visuals of life draining away from George Floyd as Chauvin’s knee bared down on his neck.
Spring also brought more racist attempts to suppress votes of people of color.
In Georgia, the state’s governor signed into law legislation that suppresses the vote of people of color by making more stringent voter-ID requirements and limits drop boxes. It even absurdly makes it illegal to give a drink to a person waiting in a long line to vote.
Similar laws have been introduced in state legislatures across 43 states this year alone.
The Republican Party fears the votes of people of color. Instead of attempting to win over votes through a democratic process they are attempting to hold onto power by suppressing the vote. In other words, making it more difficult for people of color to vote.
The voter suppression impacts the Native vote as well.
Even though Native Americans first gained citizenship in 1924 through the Indian Citizenship Act, the right to vote did not come automatically. Similar to Black Americans, Native Americans in many states faced poll taxes and literacy tests in order to vote. It was not until 1962 that all states allowed Native Americans the right to vote when the state of Utah finally relented.
This fact was mentioned by Rep. Deb Haaland, now secretary of the Dept. of the Interior, in her remarks to the Democratic National Convention last August.
“Voting is sacred. My people know that. We were not universally granted the right to vote until 1962,” Haaland said.
The struggles to vote persisted even after 1962 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for Native people.
An excellent analysis of the Native vote was conducted by the Native American Rights Coalition, founded by the Native American Rights Fund. The report Obstacles at Every Turn: Barriers to Political Participation Faced by Native American Voters was released last June prior to the 2020 presidential election. It summarized nine public hearings conducted among Native Americans in 2017 and 2018. The final report revealed that Native people face obstacles at every turn in the electoral process: from registering to vote, to casting votes, to having votes counted.
An excerpt from the final report:
“Although Native Americans are among the fastest growing populations in the United States, there are strong forces preventing their full political participation. The factors discouraging political participation are: (1) geographical isolation; (2) physical and natural barriers; (3) poorly maintained or non-existent roads; (4) distance and limited hours of government offices; (5) technological barriers and the digital divide; (6) low levels of educational attainment; (7) depressed socio-economic conditions; (8) homelessness and housing insecurity; (9) non-traditional mailing addresses such as post office boxes; (10) lack of funding for elections; (11) and discrimination against Native Americans.”
Even with these disheartening findings, the Native vote rose 20 percent during the 2020 presidential election over the 2016 election.
The Republican lawmakers across these 43 states want to preserve and protect the vote for people who are like them. And they want to suppress the vote for the vast majority of people of color because they do not embrace their anti-democratic form of governance.
They know Native votes make a difference and they don’t like it. The Native vote made a significant difference in several states, including Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin, during the 2020 presidential election.
Despite the efforts of the GOP to suppress the vote, there was one sign of a new beginning this spring. On Friday, Major League Baseball (MLB) moved its 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, which represents a loss of $60 million to the Georgia economy.
"I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year's All-Star Game and MLB Draft," MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said in a statement. "Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box."
Native Americans must work hard to rebuff attempts to suppress the Native vote. This spring we must work hard to eradicate the lingering sickness of racism.
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