Dean Chavers: A conspiracy to deny voting rights to Indians
"There is a conspiracy abroad to keep Indians out of the voting places. It keeps Indians from voting, and keeps Indians from winning elections. White voters have proved over and over that they will not vote for an Indian, even one who is highly qualified. Indian veterans coming back from World War II found they still could not vote, or buy a house, or get a decent job, or buy a car. They wondered what they had been fighting and dying for.

The conspiracy is wide and deep. It involves county clerks, county commissioners, local judges, city council members, police chiefs, and other officials. It involves a wide variety of schemes, among which are at-large voting, gerrymandering, lack of registration sites in Indian Country, failure to allow roving registrars, literacy tests, lack of voting places in Indian Country, intimidation, “packing” an Indian area, and making accusations of voter fraud.

These conspiracies lead to an astonishingly low voting rate among Indians, which runs about 20% to 25%. The National Indian Youth Council (NIYC) found in a study done in the 1980s that only 15% to 20% of Indians in New Mexico were registered to vote.

Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to protect Indian voting rights. Despite the Act, Wild Bill Janklow, the Indian hating former governor and Member of Congress from South Dakota, fought the Voting Rights Act in that state for over a quarter of a century. Janklow did his part to make sure South Dakota kept its reputation as the “Mississippi of the North.” He made such comments as all AIM members should be shot, that Indians should be kept on reservations, and so on. And he raped young girls at will; he was never prosecuted for the most infamous case, that of Jancita Eagle Deer in 1966.

The lawsuit that finally enforced it in the state, Quiver v. Nelson, was the largest lawsuit in the history of the Act. Only 9.9% of Indians in the state of South Dakota were registered to vote.

Other states with terrible records of discrimination against Indians and voting are Montana, North Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon."

Get the Story:
Dean Chavers: No Voting Rights in Indian Country (The Native American Times 5/27)