PHOENIX, Arizona -- Native American voter advocacy organizations are launching an educational campaign in support of federal legislation that will prevent anti-democracy partisans in states from imposing voter suppression laws intended to block members of tribes, nations, and other communities from casting ballots in elections.
Four Directions, the leading Native American voter mobilization group in the U.S., and the Global Indigenous Council, an advocacy organization that seeks to unite Indigenous communities on common issues, are kicking off their campaign in Arizona, where some of the most destructive voter suppression bills have been proposed in the Arizona State Legislature.
Despite laughable false claims that the bills are supposedly going to strengthen democracy, Arizona voter restriction provisions target Native Americans that were part of an unprecedented voter mobilization of tribes that gained national attention in the 2020 elections. In Navajo and Hopi precincts alone 60,000 ballots were cast last November, compared with less than 42,500 in 2016, according to an Associated Press analysis of election data. The historic trend was seen among the smaller tribes, as well.
“Native Americans have never had equality at the ballot box and the actions taken now are a perfect example of why,” said OJ Semans, a co-founder of Four Directions, a nonpartisan organization that took a leading role in the Arizona voter registration and turnout effort.
The two groups announced today the placement of their first two billboards in the Phoenix area at I-10 between Guadalupe and Elliot, and Route 202 near the Route 101 loop. The billboards carry a powerful message — “You took away our land. You took away our children. Now you’re taking our vote?” — overlaid on an image of the children’s graveyard at the Carlisle (PA) Indian Industrial School. The U.S. government forced Native American children into boarding schools, leaving their families at young ages, and erasing their indigenous cultures, languages, tribal names, religious and spiritual beliefs. Hundreds of children died at Carlisle, never to return to their families.
“First they took away our land, our water and our food. Then they took away our children, and now they want to take away our vote,” said Tom Rodgers, president of the Global Indigenous Council, which backed the work of Four Directions in Arizona and led separate successful Native American voter drives last year in Georgia and Montana. “We have worked too hard and for too long to register and turn out Native American voters to allow states to impose racist laws created to suppress our votes.”
In coming weeks, the Native American voter advocacy campaign will include a comprehensive multi-media outreach and education effort targeting Indigenous Americans and the ever-increasing ranks of non-Natives allied with Indigenous Americans. Direct outreach to tribes, nations, villages and Native American leadership and membership organizations is already underway and will be supported by traditional media outreach, advertising, and social media.
“The message in our Native-to-Native outreach is simple: everything you care about, the land, the water, our brothers the wolf and grizzly bear, our languages, culture and self-empowerment is at stake,” said Rodgers, a member of the Blackfeet Nation. “There are dark forces at work here that want to take it all away and can do so wholesale by preventing Native Americans from having their say at the ballot box.”
The campaign to protect and preserve Native American enfranchisement coincides with other efforts by organizations that support the voting rights of Blacks, Hispanics, and young voters, all of which are groups targeted in voter suppression bills now being introduced in dozens of states, primarily by extremist legislators.
“In the South, it is called Jim Crow. In Indian Country it has been called the Jim Crow of the West. In the hearts and minds of good, honest Americans of all lineages it is called a hate-driven attempt to rig the system at the ballot box by abolishing free and fair elections for all,” Rodgers said. “This is a fight we won’t walk away from until the voting rights of every person are safe and secure and democracy prevails.”