On Nov. 3, we will be voting in what could be one of the most important presidential elections in our country’s modern history. For our nation’s democracy to function properly, all eligible Americans — including marginalized communities such as Native, Black and Latinx Americans — should have the opportunity to vote and be encouraged to do so.
The U.S. was built on the premise that all men are created equal, but the true history of the U.S., especially through the eyes of a Native community, proves this to be inaccurate. The right to vote was granted to white men who owned property in 1787. It took nearly 100 years for Black men to be afforded the same right under the 15th Amendment, passed in 1870. In 1920, ratification of the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. However, it wasn’t until 1924, under the Indian Citizenship Act, that indigenous Americans were granted citizenship and the right to vote.
For nearly 140 years, white men voted on decisions that would directly affect Native communities and their people. Those who did not speak our languages, who did not know the customs of our ancestors and did not face the everyday challenges we face made decisions on our behalf.
For nearly 140 years, our voices were not heard.
This year, we amplify the Native voice as we head to the polls. We need representation in our government at every level: local, state and national. When bills are passed and laws are made, it’s imperative that we are present in the decision-making process considering how it will directly affect a community that accounts for more than 6.8 million people.
It’s inspiring to see 12 Native candidates running for Congress this year, and even more candidates at the local level. Through these candidates, our community has a chance at fair representation in the lawmaking process.
The Native vote is quickly nearing the forefront of the election. It could influence results in seven major swing states: Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Colorado. With the population of Native Americans growing at double the rate of the U.S. population (35% versus 14%), it is crucial now more than ever to have elected officials in office who represent a shared culture and history, to have officials in office who look like us; Native citizens to whom future generations can one day look up.
Through voting, we collectively have the power to make such change.
For many, casting a vote in an election is a simple process. Though for many others, it is not.
This has been an unprecedented year, with presidential campaigns in full swing, Black Lives Matter protests occurring in all 50 states and the coronavirus pandemic impacting our day-to-day, voting feels especially sacred.
For those living in fear of contracting COVID-19, in-person voting may not be an option. Fortunately, 34 states (including Washington state) as well as the District of Columbia are allowing mail-in voting as an alternative to in-person voting. Twenty of these states had not previously allowed mail-in voting, a change that affects nearly 100 million voters.
This change is especially celebrated by those in rural or hard-to-reach communities, as many indigenous tribes are.
In Washington state, ballots are mailed to every registered voter before the election. To make sure you receive your mail-in ballot by mid-October, or are able to vote in person this November, register to vote. Ballots must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3, or deposited in election drop boxes.
We urge not just Native communities, but everyone, to vote. Encourage your family members, your neighbors and your friends to vote, too. Encourage them to listen to what candidates are saying and to make informed decisions based on the good of our shared people and our shared nation.
In the words of our own Samish language, Istá7 smes7itxw (let’s vote)!