According to Meskwaki Tribal Chairman Dawson Davenport, the Indigenous vote has gained importance overall in the U.S. The now famous Native-led opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 on the Standing Rock Reservation in N. Dakota helped focus Native and non-Native concerns about the role fossil fuels play in driving climate change. “Standing Rock made our people aware of climate change and got them more interested in addressing it through involvement with politics,” he said. “The environmental impact of climate change is one of our biggest concerns on the Settlement; we are working with the Environmental Protection Agency to create our own water quality standards,” Davenport said “For several years our waterways on the Settlement have been closed to fishing and swimming due to run off from factory farms that surround our community,” he said. “I think the young people all over the world are starting to get involved; They realize the changing world is going to be their world. We’re (older people) the ones that made the mess but they are going to have to live in it. The youth are waking up on the whole fallout from the impact of climate change,” Buffalo said. “Native people forward the idea that humans should care about and care for the environment. The Meskwaki have lived in this region for centuries and survived many life-threatening episodes. The rest of the world can learn from us,” Buffalo said. “Our prayers and stubbornness have helped us survive,” he added. Indeed, the Meskwaki Tribe has a unique standing in the United States. They were removed from their Iowa homelands in 1845 to a reservation in Kansas as part of the 1830 Indian Removal Act. By the 1850’s, many returned from Kansas. In 1857, the Meskwaki Tribe also known as the Red Earth People, purchased 80 acres of land in Tama County, Iowa, that they held in common. Eventually they purchased lands totaling 80 thousand acres. Today’s Settlement, home to about 700 of the tribe’s 1400 citizens, is not a reservation; it is private purchased property held in common by the tribe, a sovereign nation recognized by the federal government as part of Indian Country. The Meskwaki Tribe were also among the first Native peoples in the U.S. to practice their right to vote after the passage of the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. “We voted in the November 1924 presidential election,” said Buffalo. Native peoples were not allowed to vote in every U.S. state until 1962. Volunteers like Wanatee are working to revitalize that tenacious spirit. “My biggest push is to educate people about the new rules of the caucus process and get them more engaged, ”Wanatee said. Unlike past years, caucus goers can no longer change their initial candidate choices if the candidates are viable. A candidate who receives at least 15 percent of caucus supporters is considered viable. This years’ caucuses will also permit the use of satellite locations in which Iowa Democrats who can’t otherwise attend their precinct caucus get the chance to caucus during extended hours at locations other than their assigned precincts. According to the Iowa Democratic Party, Iowans will be caucusing at 97 additional locations including 69 in-state, 25 out of state (across 13 states) and 3 international sites such as Scotland, France and the Republic of Georgia. “We can play a big role in determining the winner of the caucuses. After all, our region is the most bipartisan area of the state. The Settlement traditionally votes 93-95 percent Democratic,” she said.
The Iowa caucuses are hugely influential in determining the outcome of the Democratic nomination. According to National Public Radio, the last seven of nine candidates who won Iowa went on to be the party’s presidential nominee. And according to the Des Moines Register, the increase in Native American voters in key battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina could overcome President Donald Trump’s past victories there. Wanatee expects caucus turnout on the settlement to be at an all-time high. “People have to be 21 years old to vote in our tribal elections but the caucus and presidential election gives our younger citizens a chance to participate,” she said. “Plus, people really want to get rid of Trump.” Indian Country Today’s live coverage of caucus action begins Monday at 7 p.m. Central Time from the Meskwaki Settlement. Note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reporters Aliyah Chavez (@AliyahJChavez) & Mary Annette Pember (@mapember) will be on the ground covering the Iowa Caucus LIVE from the Meskwaki Indian Settlement on Monday!— Indian Country Today (@IndianCountry) January 31, 2020
Watch out for the live coverage at https://t.co/GgTtwp4mh1.
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Mary Annette Pember is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today and based in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Wisconsin Ojibwe. See more at MAPember.com. Winner of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, the USC Annenberg National Health Fellowship and Dennis A. Hunt Fund for health journalism she has reported extensively on the impact of historical trauma among Indian peoples. She has contributed to ReWire.News, The Guardian, and Indian Country Today.
This story originally appeared on Indian Country Today on February 3, 2020.