Aaniin, Boozhoo! When this edition of the Inaajimowin arrives in Band member mailboxes, we will be just days away from one of the most important elections in our lifetime, even though this is a midterm election rather than a Presidential race. It is more important than ever that every Mille Lacs Band member and Native person in Minnesota who can vote gets out and votes.
Why is this election so important? There are many reasons. First, in January, a new Governor and Attorney General will take office in Minnesota, and both of these positions will be responsible for policies that directly impact Native people. Congressman Tim Walz and State Representative Peggy Fla- nagan have visited the reservation many times and are strong supporters of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Republican candidate Jeff Johnson has made statements about our treaty rights and co-management of Mille Lacs Lake that are cause for grave concern.
Second, we have a state legislative race that impacts District I and IIA, where Emy Minzel is challenging Sondra Erickson, who is widely considered to be the most anti-Indian lawmaker in the Minnesota Legislature. The ballot box is the opportunity for Band members to speak out against the politics of racism.
Third, the outcome of the national congressional races will determine whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Each of these bodies has the power to halt or give the green light to federal policies impacting Indian tribes and people.
On that note, our own Eighth Congressional District, which is represented by retiring Democrat Rick Nolan, is in the national spotlight right now because ours is the only race in the United States which Republicans believe they might flip from Democratic to Republican. A recent New York Times article focused on this race, stating, “No battleground district in America had as big a swing from Barack Obama to Mr. Trump as this one, Minnesota’s Eighth...which Mr. Obama won by six percentage points in 2012; Mr. Trump won it by 16 points in 2016.” The paper called our district a chance for a Republican “to do something no other Republican might do next month: win a Democratic House seat.”
The Band has endorsed State Rep. Joe Radinovich, a strong environmentalist who has been a friend to tribes, but no matter who Band members decide to vote for, the stakes are very high and millions of dollars have been spent by both national political parties wanting your vote.
For all of these races, read this edition of the November Inaajimowin for an informative election guide, and if you’re on Facebook, check the Mille Lacs Band’s page for ongoing info leading up to Election Day.
There is another reason why every Band member who can vote should vote: because historically, we are people whom others have worked very hard to block from voting, and there are those who are still fighting to stop us from voting today.
Mary Sam wrote an excellent piece several years ago about voter suppression of Native people, and described a Minnesota Supreme Court case in 1917 (Opsahl v. Johnson) which ruled that Indians did not have the right to vote be- cause they lived on reservations and were not part of the “civilized” population. The court determined that “civilized” referred to American Indians who were living off reservations and pursuing the customs and traditions of white Americans. Women were granted the right to vote in 1919, but it was not until 1924 that the Congress passed the American Indian Citizenship Act which provided American Indians the right to vote, mainly because of our high rate of military service during World War I. Imagine that – our ancestors fought and died in
World War I when they legally were not even U.S. citizens!
But that act was not the end of attempts to suppress the Indian vote. While the act gave American Indians voting rights, states governed their own voting requirements and often passed laws that limited this right. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited states from using discriminatory voting practices (further enforcing the 15th Amendment).
Unfortunately, the Act has been slowly eroded in recent years, with some states passing voter ID laws which are designed as barriers to stop Native people, people of color, and low-income people from exercising their right to vote. In Minnesota, we had our own battle years ago when a former Secretary of State tried to prevent Native people from voting by refusing to accept tribal IDs for those registering to vote for the first time. But we won that battle and tribal government IDs are accepted under Minnesota law as legitimate proof of citizenship.
In a travesty of justice, there have been recent successful efforts to erode that act by giving back to states the power to prevent us from voting. These battles are happening throughout Indian Country, and right next door in North Dakota.
Just weeks ago, on October 9, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a North Dakota law requiring that in order to vote, people must have an ID with a street address. Many reservations in North Dakota do not use street addresses, and tribal members instead have PO boxes, which may stop thousands of tribal members from voting this year. These actions by the State of North Dakota are widely perceived to be pay-back for tribal opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Tribal governments in North Dakota are furiously working to do what they can by issuing new IDs, but it is an uphill battle that will result in many Native people being denied the right to vote. This is yet another reason why Mille Lacs Band members should exercise their right to vote – to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in North Dakota who want to vote, but will be denied the right to vote.
Under Band law, it is the role of the Chief Executive “to conduct external relations with all other governments and their political subdivisions” (MLBSA Title 4, Section 6 (c). As Chief Executive, much of my work is spent dealing with federal agencies and members of Congress, because that is where the big decisions are made that impact us at the federal level, and in St. Paul with state officials.
Over decades, we have worked very hard as a Band to ensure that the Mille Lacs Band always has a seat at the table, regardless of who sits in the White House or the State Capitol. As a Band government, we have a tradition of having friends on both sides of the aisle, and regardless of the out- come of these elections, we will continue to fight to ensure we have a seat the table. We support those who support the Mille Lacs Band.
This election season, there are many close races that will impact us as Band members. We have a chance to make a huge impact and make history. I urge everyone to please get out and vote on November 6 in honor of our ancestors and to protect the future of our children. Miigwech!