The Native American Vote in 2016
What are we looking for in a President-Elect?
This is a broad and open question that could go on for days, many moons. For a long time, I just sat back and watched elections happen like the Grammy’s or opening presents on Christmas Day. That shouldn’t be the case if you’re truly concerned about the status and progress for Indian country.
Where do we start? Perhaps you’re looking for someone with certain qualities of leadership, a business minded individual, a veteran, a husband/wife, a minority or humanitarian. Whether it is the nation, state, city or tribal government, the issues that Native people are most struck by will most likely be relevant to where you spend the most time working and living. While Rural and Urban Indians fall into minority categories, for statistics sake, there is diversity in the politics we face (or ignore). By politics (at any level), this can mean anything from social welfare to warfare; including areas of education, sovereignty, economic development, human rights, natural resources, social services, etc.
With that said, in reviewing Presidential candidates, you need to look at your own needs and the community you live in. Evaluate the services you use most or are affected by, alongside the next 4-8 years of a Presidential term. Who do you want to stick it out with? Who would you want at the dinner table making decisions about the world you live in?
While not everyone keeps up with the televised debates, how many of us even read a newspaper anymore? Set aside your “Netflix & Chill” state of mind to consider the above and how personal this decision truly is to you and your family, your future.
Virtues & Character of a Leader
I’m not sure how to tell you that expectations can be a real kill joy when considering elected officials. I mean, we all come with a history, a past. It’s how we come to know the value of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses or just how much more we want to be involved or coast through the rest of life. If you’re looking for someone who you can trust or is honorable, those qualities and just about any other can be shot down in a minute with the reality of who a person is or what we are allowed to see. I’d encourage you to be wary of making quick assumptions. Give it enough time, people will reveal themselves and their character… although, you might have to be listening.
While we may all enjoy our personal liberties of freedom and the right to privacy, that doesn’t keep people from their curiosities or from their interpretive manners in evaluating who you are as a person. Truth is a fascinating thing. Your truth is different than any individual’s truth, only because we have our own experiences and observations of the world. The best I can offer is to encourage you to do the research and get as much information or access to Presidential candidate platforms and town halls as you can. Be wary of the media or what’s out there via social media, not everything is valid. Create conversations with family, colleagues and friends that will allow you to listen to others to add to & form your own perspective. You’d be surprised at where these kinds of conversations take you. You end up learning a lot about others and yourself.
The Craft of the Media
I love having choices of news outlets, but it’s their job to tell a good story with a headline that makes you want to read, watch & listen more. VIEWERS & RATINGS!! Just be sure you are doing your own fact checking. It’s easy to get angry, jump on a bandwagon and be negatively affected by what is being promoted. Avoid undue stress by knowing and visiting your trusted news outlets, writers or sources and be informed of the issues. You don’t have to be an expert or connoisseur of politics, you should be aware of what matters most to you.
If you’re interested in knowing a little more than nothing about what’s going on in the world, I’ve found the Skimm to be quite entertaining. It’s an easy daily read and jam packed with things I’d never find the time to review in a single day. You can easily find other sources using the apps in your smart phones, tablets or computers. Find what works for you.
Why am I so invested?
I care. I wasn’t always politically mindful and I didn’t realize or care to understand how elections affected me. My children are teenagers and mostly independent thinkers, but they depended on me all their life to make the tough decisions. So I make time to understand the issues, for their future.
A few years back, I made an appointment with a campaign group to see if it was something I wanted to lend myself to. If you’ve never been inside of a Presidential campaign headquarters, you’re missing out.
First of all, I felt OLD as dirt (I was 30-something). There had to be 18 year olds and twenty-somethings literally driving the ship. Walls plastered with whiteboards, top to bottom with markings of motivational quotes, schedules, volunteers, to do lists and more. File cabinets upon file cabinets, floors littered with paper & boxes stacked to the ceilings of campaign literature and posters. Ponytails, fresh cuts, buns, loose strands of hair flying as flannel t-shirts, jeans, fully suited ‘kids’ whizzed past me… some stopping to ask who I was there for, pointing me in the next direction or waving for assistance from a friendly face organizing a table. These were the movers and shakers of Obama’s campaign and I was deeply inspired, overcome with pride at how involved every person was and the amount of work being done.
That 60 minutes of my time, in that space, was a blur in comparison to how I see things happening across Indian Country. It reminds me of the inside of my head and heart when I get into a fit of creativity. We need that in our tribal offices, in our community buildings. We need to catch that bug and pass it on to any willing tribal member who wants to see and enact change.
What are the concerns of Indian Country?
Therein lies the power. You get to decide what is most critical. What are you most affected by? Start there. I can see the smirks in real time – So who’s listening? Your tribally-elected officials and/or appointed representatives should be. It’s your choice how involved or passive you are and I do understand if you are shaking your head right now. Believe me, I know how frustrating it can be to feel powerless and even muted. Keep trying. Make appointments with your tribal leaders. Write letters. Start community conversations. As tough as it seems, nothing changes without us.
Lately, there’s a myriad of information on the internet ablaze with topics of Presidential candidates and Indian Country. I won’t spoon feed it to you, but do have a look for yourself. Whatever you do, don’t let a politician, especially a Presidential Candidate, tell you what the imperative and critical issues are for Indian Country or Native Americans. You live it, you need to tell it like it is. Be empowered to share the realities and make a difference for the current and future generations.
ALL LIVES MATTER
I’m going to end with this. Regardless of race or ethnicity, social class, education, work experience… we all deserve a chance to cast a vote for the individual that is going to lead this country for the next 4 years. I’ve been fortunate to hear Bernie & Jane Sanders speak on their intent and platforms. I’ve been just as disgusted with the performance of candidates who have publicly humiliated the diversity of our country, governmental structure and its’ people.
I can’t say that these candidates completely understand Indian Country or that they will be able to immediately overhaul our systems to benefit our people. A lot of that work belongs to our own tribal governments and our people.
Upon my own experience & research, I’ve come to believe that the Sanders are the closest we are going to get to having representation of the average citizen in the White House. I’m looking at what their actions have been over the past 2-3 weeks of this campaign, as well as what they’ve committed to in public service over the years. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that a lot of their recent visits are capitalizing on and leading up to today’s Presidential Preference Election. However, they attempted to visit tribal communities, met with tribal leaders and are learning about long standing issues.
Like anything, I anticipate the Sanders campaign will get better at communicating what it is they can realistically focus on doing for Indian Country when they can catch their breath and evaluate the power of the President and the future work with Tribal Governments. For now, it’s still a campaign.
Time for homework. Educate yourself, your family and friends, encourage them to vote. The greatest difference is in the choices we make. Invite your children and grandchildren to sit at the table during these conversations and ask them what they think. We’re learning to be better advocates, to fight their fight. We should be teaching our babies these same values and tenets of identity & empowerment.
When our families tell us to go out, get an education and come back to help our people, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to a formal education. Life is an education. Take what you’ve learned up to this point and make a difference by your freedom and personal right to be heard & VOTE. That’s it folks, thanks for reading to the end.
NYT: Who is Running for President? By WILSON ANDREWS, ALICIA PARLAPIANO and KAREN YOURISH
Democratic Candidate Links
Where can I VOTE TODAY??