Get out the Indian vote registers tribal members
Smiles, waves and excitement were seen from many tribal members as they waited in line to cash settlement checks. (Lailani Upham photo)
POLSON — It’s all about getting out the Indian vote.
In the 2012 State of Indian Nation address, National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel remarked, “We’re all aware of the impact an election can have on Indian Country. And, in recent years, many have come to learn that the door swings both ways – Indian Country can have a significant impact on elections – and it can be game changing… When it comes to Native Vote, we can and we must think big. Simply put, we will work.”
According to NCAI, in 2008, six million American Indians did not vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn’t know how to register.
This year the goal is to fill in those six million - to count as a vote.
There are a number of groups and organizations, partisan and non-partisan throughout Indian Country and most definitely thriving on the Flathead Reservation.
Angie Redstar volunteers at the registration booth on the morning of September 12 at Eagle Bank. (Lailani Upham photo)
Local folks are hitting the pavement to get more and more Natives to register to vote.
Erica Shelby, a newly hired staff for the Western Native Voice non-profit organization says the goal is to see 100 percent turn out from the Indian vote in this election.
Shelby and others were set up and walking the crowds at Eagle Bank earlier when checks were dispersed from the Salazar federal government settlement to urge tribal members to register to vote.
The tactic of hitting the line of people that continued into the parking lot throughout the entire day was a success, says Shelby.
“People were very receptive to registering,” she stated. “This is the most people we had (register to vote) in a single setting. People were more inclined after the fact that the federal government handed over the settlement money. We expressed to them that it was certain legislation and government officials working for Indians and it was very important that every Indian needed to vote in this upcoming election.”
Western Native Voice is spearheading a campaign to register and turn out a record number of American Indian voters in Montana on all reservations and many of the urban Indian populations. Their goal is to register 5,000 new voters during this election cycle in Montana.
Shelby said many who believe in getting out the Native vote would like to see the “Native Vote” be their own special interest group to aid in forming policies that affect Indian tribes and their communities.
Eagle Bank security guard steps in as an escort for a cheery elderly lady on September 12. Elders had priority access in the line at Eagle Bank. (Lailani Upham photo)
A special interest group in Indian country would have the power to encourage or prevent changes in public policy.
Eleanor Yellow Robe, who worked with getting out the Indian vote in 2008, is reaching tribal folks on the eastern side of Montana on the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap Reservations.
Yellow Robe gathered data from all counties in Montana encompassing Reservations and found that most Reservation populations were slightly above half the percentage of votes in the 2008 election.
Flathead Reservation was the highest with 74 percent. Crow came in at 68 percent; Fort Belknap at 66.4; Fort Peck at 59.9; Blackfeet at 56; Northern Cheyenne at 51.7 and Rocky Boy at 47.6 percent.
“I challenge all of you to get out and vote to improve your communities rank. We should be voting no less than 75 percent. It is critical in this upcoming election.”
Casey Askan, (right), Tribal Outreach volunteer talks with the crowds at Eagle Bank in efforts to register more Native voters. (Lailani Upham photo)
Yellow Robe remarked that if tribal communities think poverty is high now, tribal communities could face becoming worse off if certain candidates take office.
“Our lives are impacted ever day through voting. If we vote in large numbers we influence our elected officials to give greater support to our issues. If we don’t vote and don’t have the care to vote, why would they care about our needs and issues? We must become proactive through voting and take our back our role as the First Americans and direct the political leadership to respect our issues. We need to take back our leadership and be proactive in American politics.”