Why Should I Vote?
Not all Native peoples were granted U.S. citizenship until 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act. Until then many Native Americans were prohibited from voting in local, state and federal elections. Even after the passage of the act, many states denied voting Native Americans voting privileges – New Mexico Natives were given the vote in 1962 and “Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Washington prohibited "Indians not taxed" from voting as late as 1968…” (1). During the 1950s and 1960s, under pressure from the Civil Rights Movement and other movements, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was put protections in place so that Native Americans and others could vote unhindered.
Since that time many have participated in the democratic process by casting their vote, but too many Native Americans do not vote or do not vote consistently, especially in elections that aren’t Tribal. There are a number of reasons why Native Americans should vote when given the opportunity. The above history is one reason. For many years indigenous peoples were prohibited by law from voting in federal, state and local elections even though Native Americans were affected in a myriad of ways by government policies (e.g. schooling policies, removal to reservations, land rights issues, etc.). Today Native Americans have the ability to have an impact on the policies that affect them and the policymakers by voting and making their concerns heard.
Decisions are made every day by government officials that affect indigenous peoples, from the President (who recently met with Tribal leaders and signed a memorandum about consultation) to the Governor of the state (who negotiates gaming contracts) to local officials (e.g. Town of Hobart and Green Bay city officials who make service agreements with the tribe about who will provide services like sewage and trash pick up). If Native peoples do not participate in these elections, these officials have little reason to consider to their concerns and issues; they will consider the concerns of those who do vote.
For more information about issues affecting Native peoples, you can visit our Current Issues page. The Oneida Tribe's Ernie Stevens Jr. wrote “Let the Native voice be heard” that talks about why the Native vote is important. Also see the National Congress of American Indians's "Reasons to Vote."
(1) National Congress of American Indians, NCAI. (2008). The American indian vote: a brief history & current obstacles. Retrieved from http://nativevote.org/images/docs/The%20American%20Indian%20Vote%20A%20Brief%20History%20_2004_.pdf