— Dr. Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux) I begin with the above quote as the exercise of our voting rights to protect our treaty rights and our tribal sovereignty is a stake. Advocating for our tribal nations and our people through participation in the political process is one of the most important choices we can make. Retired Lt. Governor Jefferson Keel (Chickasaw Nation, former NCAI President) once said that we are not R or D but I for Indian. It is up to each of us to participate in the political process beyond partisanship. At the core of our participation is voting and informing oneself of which candidates will protect our treaty rights. Reinforced through judicial precedence, legislation, and ebbs and flows of Presidential Administrations, the treaty and trust obligation is a dynamic, not a static concept. Our funding is not charity or welfare or even reparations but pre-paid with over 500 million acres of Indian ceded lands. Upholding the treaty and trust obligation is only as real or protected as the next federal election. It is important to reinforce the importance of voting during this tumultuous time when state legislatures are passing laws at record speed to make it more difficult for all Americans to exercise our right to vote. Early American political activist Thomas Paine once said, “The right [to vote] …is the primary right by which other rights are protected.” As the last U.S. citizens to be granted the right to vote in 1924, American Indians know best how the act of limiting our rights serves to disenfranchise and marginalize a whole population. Even after women, African Americans and other races, and American Indians were granted the right to right to vote, various legislative efforts at the state level continued limited access to the ballot box. Not until the Civil Rights Act of 1965 was enacted did some semblance of a true equal right to vote emerge.
Again, as a dynamic process, our very right to vote is threatened at the state level by disallowing early voting, automatic voter registration, mail in balloting, drop boxes, disallowing rural routes and reservation addresses, and refusing to accept Tribal IDs as legitimate forms of ID. Each of these limitations are proffered as reasonable rational objective standards but make no mistake, the effect is to limit voter participation by the “haves” over the “have nots.” Thomas Paine also said, “To take away this right [to vote] is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives.” As tragic as the pandemic had been, a ray of sunshine was the sheer necessity of allowing mail-in balloting and other means to make it easier for Americans to exercise our Constitutional right to vote. During our American history, the resistance to the full exercise of this right through poll tests, creating barriers to voting by limiting voting times, long lines that disadvantage the 9 to 5 working class, and not establishing a paid voting holiday, all serve to maintain the status quo — a system which shields the wealthy to not pay their fair share of taxes, and to reject Great Society-like social programs to aid needy Americans. The true welfare state is the tax inequity of the top 1%, corporate welfare, and subsidies to corporations who pay less in taxes than average Americans. Corporate campaign contributions protect inequities at the expense of average Americans. This phenomenon is strange as Americans are lulled into complacency or brainwashed into believing corporate welfare benefits them through trickledown economics.
ICYMI: In a bipartisan effort to address the unique obstacles faced by Native American voters, Congress introduced the Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021. The #NativeVote continues to face unique barriers when casting a ballot. #NAVRA— Native American Rights Fund (@NDNrights) August 16, 2021
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Chairperson Aaron Payment, a high school dropout at 15, earned a GED at 16 and entered college at 17. Dr Payment holds a doctorate degree in education, a master’s in education specialist, a master’s in education administration and a master’s in public administration. He also serves as the 1st Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians, President of the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, and President of the United Tribes of Michigan.
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