MENOMINEE COUNTY, Wisconsin. – The power of indigenous voters to decide 2020 the presidential election cannot be overstated, Representative of the United States, Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), A citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, told the Democratic Party in August. States with significant indigenous populations – Arizona, Minnesota and others – are at stake, Davids said. Even Wisconsin’s small, indigenous voting-age population could have an impact on the White House race, according to Davids. President Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by fair 0.77%, while Indigenous voters make up about 1.5% of state electorate, according to the National Congress of American Indian (NCAI).
To get people to the polls, a popular advocacy group called Menikanaehkem, based on the 235,000– Acres of federally recognized Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin reserve is working with the Indigenous Organizing Arm of Wisconsin Conservation Voters on digital ways to communicate with fellow tribesmen about issues and issues. voting procedures this year. The group, whose name is pronounced men-ee-KAHN-ah-kem (translated by “community reconstructers ”), supports the well-being of the Menominees living among the verdant hills, tumultuous rivers and sparkling waterfalls of northeastern Wisconsin.
In the April primary elections in Wisconsin, voters in person faced long lines and the risk of Covid-19 infection to vote. To prevent this from happening again, Menikanaehkem encourages the use of the absenteeism option, or by mail, as does Menominee County, whose borders correspond to those of the reserve and which manages national elections there.
While the Menominee Reserve, according to Menikanaehkem Executive Director Guy Reiter, enjoys relatively good postal service, postal service in many Native American communities, like access to physical polling stations, has long been unreliable and inequitable. Postal slowdowns during postal voting would likely hit these communities particularly hard.
A drop in Indigenous voter turnout could have consequences across the country. Native Americans are more involved and influential in American elections than is commonly thought: they nominate dozens of candidates for state and national office, organize presidential candidate forums, and run vigorous campaigns to win the vote. With about 3.7 million voting-age Indigenous people concentrated in Western states – and this voting-age population represents up to 11% of the electorate in New Mexico, 12% in Oklahoma and 17% in Alaska, according to NCAI tables – Indigenous voters can significantly influence election results. Tribal support has helped many candidates, including Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan (D-Minn.), Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Former Senator Mark Begich (D ‑Alaska), former Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D ‑ ND), former Senator Tim Johnson (D ‑ SD) and former Senator Tom Daschle (D ‑ SD).
To make sure every Menominee vote counts this year, Wisconsin Conservation Voters is helping Menikanaehkem and representatives of other tribal nations reach out to their communities through text messages, social media, email and virtual town halls. These digital techniques have become essential to campaigns in the era of the pandemic, as routine meetings and canvassing efforts become potentially dangerous. Reiter explains: It’s hard to be a community organizer if you can’t be in the community.
Barriers to Indigenous voting
Since he obtained American citizenship and the right to vote in 1924, Aboriginal people have filed dozens of lawsuits to exercise their right to vote. Some Indigenous voters still face harassment, remote and hard-to-reach constituency offices, reduced or unpredictable voting times, and poll workers’ refusal to accept the types of personal identification they usually wear. .
The pandemic adds new barriers: This year, because of Covid-19, many voters will rely on mail-in ballots to vote. But as In these times reported, many tribal citizens do not have door-to-door mail delivery but rely on PO boxes or general delivery to remote post offices. On some bookings, these are small contractual facilities with inconsistent service and limited hours.
A recent study conducted around the Navajo Nation offers a warning. Indigenous voting group Four Directions sent test mailings from towns in and around the reserve and found that while mail from some predominantly white communities typically took a day to get to the county polling station, Navajo mail took as much as ten days.
Four Directions is assisting Navajo plaintiffs in a federal voting rights lawsuit that includes study by mail. The lawsuit calls on Arizona to allow additional time for the Navajo mail-in ballots to be counted.
Bret Healy, consultant for the group, puts it this way: “[Mail service on the reservation] was bad before the pandemic, and any slowdown or confusion makes it worse. Healy predicts a “catastrophic decline ”in voter turnout across the Indian country if these issues are not addressed.
Meanwhile, in the Dakotas, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Lakota People’s Law Project recently joined Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and United States Deputy Speaker of the House Ben Ray Luján (D-NM ) to work on the adoption of the Native American vote. Rights Act. The bill would require accessible polling stations, increased voter registration, better access to federal election observers, and other improvements for Indigenous communities.
Save the “good place”
According to Reiter, many Indigenous voters are more problem-driven than candidates and parties. They are always interested in health and education issues, he says, and are very concerned about challenges to tribal sovereignty and damage to land, water and sacred places. As in the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), indigenous people often spearhead environmental clashes with consequences affecting millions of people.
In addition to pushing for pipelines, such as DAPL and Keystone XL, to be built through or near Indigenous lands, the Trump administration has declined federal protection of large areas of natural beauty and tribal cultural significance, including including the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. A major concern in northeastern Wisconsin is the Back Forty mine, a proposed open-pit metal mine for just over the border in Michigan. The name of Wisconsin comes from a menomine expression meaning “a good place to live, ”and the Menominees say the mine will degrade this good place. They predict damage to centuries-old gardens, ceremonial places and burial mounds.
According to Earthjustice, the law firm representing the tribe in the mine dispute, its damages would go much further. Toxic acidic drainage from the mine will contaminate the Menominee River, the company says. The river empties into Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, which together contain one-fifth of the planet’s surface fresh water. Chicago, Milwaukee and other towns and cities downstream from the proposed mine get their drinking water from this massive continental reservoir.
Exploration drilling underway for a metal mine in the upper Wolf River is also of concern to the Menominees. This Wisconsin National Scenic River originates north of the Menominee Preserve and crosses it.
Although the challenges are enormous, says Reiter, his people and other tribal citizens will persist in fighting to protect the land. “As long as this land is there, as long as we are there, we will never give up, ”he said. Vote in a way that supports this effort, “You have to do your homework. ”While Democrats have always been cooperative on environmental issues, so have some Republicans, Reiter says.
Leading from tradition
Menominee political activism exists in the context of many heritage projects and businesses. “Our work is guided by the spirit and stems from our earthly lifestyles, ”says Tribe member Rachel Fernandez. For a century and a half, the tribe used traditional principles to sustainably and profitably harvest wood. The 145-A one-year conservation group, American Forests, calls the Menominee Forest “one of the world’s most historically logged-over forests.
Menikanaehkem brings the same secular principles to carry in its other projects. Among them are food sovereignty and women’s leadership and empowerment, including midwifery and traditional childbirth practices. The group’s solar energy “tiny houses ”are home to those who need time and space during life’s transitions.
Fernandez believes it is also important to get the next generation of Menominee leaders interested in elections and this is part of preparing young people to carry on their traditions into the future. “In these difficult times, ”she said, “we need to think about who we are, who our ancestors were and what they went through to make sure we are here. In this way, we can… prepare the lives of our descendants. We must be that good ancestor for them. When you stand in your truth, it sustains you.
Despite the turmoil this year, the Menominees are not disheartened, Reiter says. Its people have survived other crises, even other pandemics, even genocide. “It’s a hell of a force, ”he says. “We have this.