In addition to the loss of life, Native peoples' land, customs, and languages were taken from them. Just a few blocks from where I live, the Phoenix Indian School shorn not only indigenous peoples' hair, but their entire way of life. While children were ripped from their parents' arms and sent to boarding schools in order to be "civilized," many tribes were removed from their traditional hunting and farming lands, and long-marched thousands of miles to places they had never seen, often some of the most desolate landscapes in America. The situation was so dire that many people, including those who supported Indian sovereignty, wondered if America's first citizens would even survive:
"...in the Mexican mountains the whole biota is intact with the single exception of the Apache Indian, who is, I fear, extinct." —Aldo Leopold, 1940Fortunately, the forester and philosopher Leopold was wrong, and it is a testament to indigenous peoples' strength and resilience that they have not only survived, but endured. Still, until 1924, not all Native Americans had been granted American citizenship, even though they had lived in this land for 13,000 years or more. During WWII, American Indians disproportionately fought and died for this nation, but when they returned to America, they still did not have the right to vote, an injustice that was not corrected until 1948. Just this week, another Navajo Code Talker, George Smith, died at the age of 90. When Mr. Smith, recipient of the Congressional Silver Medal, and his fellow Code Talkers, who played an important role in defeating Japan, came home to the Navajo Nation, they still could not vote in the nation they fought and died for.
And now the injustices are playing out again in 2012, as Indian activists attempt to get more Native people to the polls next week.
Native American communities nationwide are working hard to tap about 3 million Native American voters, hoping to turn around low voter participation that has persisted in Indian Country for decades. Arizona Republic
The reasons for the low voter turnout among Native Americans are understandable. Let's face it: the history of white men telling Indian people they want to help them is not a happy one. Beyond that, many Native communities still lack internet service, even television, so state and national news often does not penetrate their villages in a timely manner. And there remain issues of language and distance. The Navajo Nation, for example, is larger than 11 states, but there are few polling stations, forcing many people to drive hours to cast their vote. In Montana, when Indians requested more voting sites to relieve their people, often elderly, from spending a day or more away from home in order to vote, their appeal was turned down:
In Montana, Indians from the remote Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Fort Belknap reservations sought an emergency order for satellite voting on reservations, arguing that the long distance they must travel to vote early, or register late, puts them at a disadvantage compared with white voters. A federal judge denied their request on Tuesday.
And the same voter ID bullshit that is disenfranchising the elderly, students, African Americans, and Hispanics in mostly GOP-dominated states, is often leaving America's first citizens ballot-less as well.
The [National Congress of American Indians] said in a recent report that voter ID laws could negatively affect participation this year in Native American and Alaska Native communities in 10 states — Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington.Alaska and Florida, for example, do not accept tribal identification cards as valid voter credentials, even though that is the only form of ID many elderly people have. The National Congress of American Indians, which is ecouraging Indian registration and GOTV activities, also says some states are rejecting IDs that lack street addresses, a not uncommon situation for many tribal people.
Here in Arizona, tribal turnout could be a deciding factor in Congressional District 1, which covers almost half the state and includes portions of 11 of Arizona's 22 reservations, including the populous Navajo Nation. The U.S. House seat is currently held by tea party goober Paul Gosar, who beat Democratic incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick during the 2010 tsunami of stupidity (it didn't help that Kirkpatrick ran a terrible campaign). Due to redistricting, which made CD-1 less Republican-friendly, the Sarah Palin-endorsed Gosar moved to Prescott and is seeking the CD-4 House seat.
Meanwhile, Ann Kirkpatrick is running again in CD-1 against former State Senator Jonathan Paton. The airwaves here are flooded with anti-Kirkpatrick ads that say nothing about Paton, who's backed by every rightwing nutball group you can think of. In fact, the ads, funded by outside money, often don't even mention Paton; they just tell you what a terrible person Kirkpatrick is—an Obama supporter no less! According to the Arizona Daily Star, 62 percent of all outside money spent on Arizona's congressional races has gone to Paton's campaign.
Here's hoping the Native American GOTV efforts help turn CD-1 blue again, and save our majestic landscapes from the extractive industries that only see Indian land as a resource to plunder—and a people to forget.