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Honor Your Ancestors: REGISTER AND VOTE!

American Indians were the last group to be permitted the right to vote in the United States of America. African-Americans got their voting rights in 1870 and women in 1920, but it wasn't until the 1960's that the original people of this land won a voice in what goes on here. (We were officially accepted as US citizens in 1924, by the way, and have a higher percentage of men and women in military service than any other ethnic group in the country. I am myself a Vietnam veteran. So anyone who believes American Indians aren't 'real' Americans, might as well leave this page now. I delete email of this nature without reading it.)

We have had a long wait and a long struggle for representation in this political system. My ancestors didn't have the opportunity to vote against Andrew Jackson, who ordered his troops to evict them from their homes at gunpoint and force-march them to Oklahoma (despite the Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional). My father and mother didn't even have the opportunity to vote for a governor who wouldn't take their children out of their house against their will and ship them to off to faraway boarding schools to be violently 'civilized.'

Well, we have the opportunity to vote now--but dishearteningly few of us use it. Until we stand up to be counted, American politicians will continue to ignore us and our wishes, and this time, there is nobody to blame but ourselves. Our ancestors fought and suffered and died because they didn't have the option of influencing the United States government. And regardless of whether we may be full-bloods, mixed-bloods, or mostly-white descendants of an Indian great-grandmother, we owe it to them to use this right they have bought with their blood and tears.

Be a warrior. Vote.

How To Make Your Voice Heard

1. Inform yourself about the election. Learn about the candidates are and what their positions are on topics that are important to you. Here is John Kerry's website and John Kerry's page of positions on native issues. George Bush doesn't have a page on his site about native issues, but here is the George Bush homepage. There are also congress, governor and local elections. Here is the excellent state by state election information page by the League of Women Voters (it is non-partisan and publishes the candidates' own answers to issue questions). Another nonpartisan candidate information page is Project Vote Smart. If you are interested in environmental issues (as many native people are) you can also check out League of Conservation Voters which informs the public about the previous environmental voting records of different candidates. You may also want to check your tribe or nation's homepage as some chiefs and tribal leaders have endorsed candidates who have done honorably by us.

As for native representation in government, now that Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Republican senator from Colorado) has retired, there are no American Indians representing our country in the Senate any longer. This year Brad Carson (tribal member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) is running for the Oklahoma Senate seat. He is a moderate Democrat who has been serving in the House of Representatives. My son-in-law knows him and says he is a good man. You can check out his homepage at Brad Carson for Senate to decide whether you want to support his bid to bring Indian representation back to the Senate.

2. Vote. Election Day is November 2, 2004. Make time to go vote! If you're not sure where your polling place is, the League of Women Voters can help you again: their voter information guide has links to tell everyone in every state where the polling station is. (They also have good information about what to do if there's a problem at your polling place, which happened in some states last election.) Bring either a driver's license or a tribal ID card with you when you go to vote, in case you are challenged to show ID. If you don't have either a driver's license or a tribal ID card (or any other form of ID with your picture and address on it), go with a friend or relative who can vouch that you really live where you say you do in a pinch. If for some reason you are not allowed to vote or have any trouble with voting, call the NAACP voting rights hotline 1-866-OUR-VOTE. They will help make sure you get the right to vote no matter what race(s) you are.

If you are going to have trouble getting to the polling place, there are people to give you rides or otherwise help you. Call your local Democratic Party or Republican Party, or contact a voter mobilization group such as America Votes or Americans Coming Together.

3. Bring your family and friends to vote too. No one is more community-based than American Indians. Can you imagine what would happen if all of us voted this year? There are almost two million American Indian people in the US, and another ten million people of American Indian descent. The more we vote, the more politicians will care about our issues. Talk to your friends, get them to vote with you. Talk to your family, maybe the whole clan can go to the polls together. And if anyone asks you an exit poll on your way out from voting, and you are Native American, then state your ethnicity as 'Native American'. The more visible we are, the more strength we have.

4. Support organizations that register, encourage, and help voters. If you want to do more, you can join with a group who is doing get-out-the-vote activities, help them, and/or ask for their help mobilizing your tribe. The National Congress of American Indians has a nonpartisan Native Vote program this year working to mobilize Indian and Native Alaskan voters. There is a good group called America Votes which is dedicated to nonpartisan voter registration and participation in general. If you don't want something nonpartisan, then the Republican Party, Democratic Party, and left-leaning independents Americans Coming Together all work on voter registration and mobilization too. And the NAACP works to prevent voter intimidation and disenfranchisement of minorities at the polls--they are predominantly African-American but have also fought for American Indian and Latino rights, so they would surely also welcome your involvement.

Thank you for reading this, and thank you in advance for acting on it. God bless our people, and God bless America.
Orrin Lewis August, 2004

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