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Get out the Vote Empowers Indian Country

34% of the total Native population over 18, or 1 million eligible voters, are not registered to vote.

On Wednesday and Thursday, July 13 and 14, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community hosted a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) voter education workshop at Two Waters Building A. In collaboration with the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. (ITCA), the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the Arizona State University Indian Legal Program, representatives from the SRPMIC worked to provide much-needed voter education in hopes of empowering all Native people to vote in the upcoming presidential election in November.

“I wasn’t really interested in voting. I never really understood how important my vote was,” said Community member Meredith Duwyenie. “I came [to the training after seeing it on the intranet website]. Now that I’m here learning, it makes me want to share [this information] with other people. I want to learn more about it. It’s just the beginning for me. It touches home because I was born and raised in Salt River, and not knowing how recent it was that Natives [became] able to vote, that sparked an interest for me.”

Before 1924, American Indians were not considered citizens of the United States. On June 2, 1924, Congress finally granted citizenship to American Indians born in the United States. Even after the Indian Citizenship Act, most American Indians were still not allowed to vote. And now, in the 21st century, American Indians are still running into barriers when it comes to voting. Many do not have the motivation to get out and vote because they feel it does not apply to them or that due to the history of Native voting, their vote won’t make a difference.

“I think [voting is] really important. I didn’t really understand it and wasn’t really aware of the importance of it. We have some of our Youth Council [members] here, and I’m really glad to see them here. I have three children; I’m going to talk to them and see if they can spread the word as well,” added Duwyenie.

Day one of the GOTV training session included an overview of the NCAI Native Vote, Access to Voter Access Networks (VANS), community organizing, the Arizona election and what to expect, making GOTV plans, and a tribal voter-outreach discussion.

The average waiting time for all Americans is 13 minutes.
The average waiting time for minority voters is 29 minutes.
Day two included a review of the history of voting in Arizona, Voter 101: Understanding the Federal and State Elections, early voting plan, a presentation from the Arizona Clean Elections Commission, Voter Access Network (VAN), Native American Rights Fund, Election Protection, reinstatement of voting rights for people convicted of felonies, and other issues related to voting.

Representatives of the Young River People’s Council who attended the training were Arianna Leonard, Nathanuel Lopez and Cianna Dallas.

“It was eye-opening seeing all the problems we still have today and how the other countries have so many problems. It’s different from our country, where there aren’t as many problems,” said Leonard who cast her ballot after an hour of waiting at the Community Building. “The workshop was really cool because they [taught] us the history [of Native voting] today.”

“I was shocked and appalled by the power of justice now seeing all of these horrible people oppressing our rights as citizens—we’re human beings. They’re constantly finding a way to say, ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ That’s not right,” said a frustrated Lopez. “One thing I learned was that Arizona has a crazy voting system. I’m not able to vote because I’m underage, but I [will vote].”

The age at which one becomes able to register to vote in the United States is 18. As long as a person will turn 18 years old before the November election date, that person may register to vote (prior to the election) and then go to the polls to vote in November on Election Day. The deadline for registering to vote in the general election in November (the 2016 U.S. presidential election) is before midnight on October 10, 2016.

“I thought it was really great to learn something new. I never thought that I would be going to something like this. Patty Ferguson-Bohnee was really great and made everything fun with stuff I didn’t know before,” said Dallas. “I think [voting] is really important, especially for the young people.”

For more information about GOTV or for questions about voting here within the SRPMIC, call SRPMIC Intergovernmental Relations Project Manager Angela Willeford at (480) 362-7520.