THE BLOG

It's Time for Native Americans to Start Thinking Independent

07/01/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Tim Giago Founder, Native American Journalists Association

We are only half way through 2009 and yet politicians across America are already gearing up for Election 2010.

In cities like Rapid City there are local elections for mayor, city council, school board, etc., already in their conclusive state. It seems that we live in a world of non-stop elections and politics.

The longevity of Election 2008 took its toll on many Americans. It started too early and ran too late, or so it seemed to the many fatigued voters out there. We are barely settling back into our easy chairs after that grueling election and we find that it is time to wake up and get involved in another.

Near the end of the 2008 race I wrote about the potential offered to Native American voters if they became an Independent. Statistics, and I hate statistics, now point out that the largest shift in party affiliation this year is the shift from the Republican and Democratic parties to the Independent party. So in this instance, statistics do bear me out.

It is true that the Democrats have taken the Native American voter for granted. They have taken this same stance with the Hispanic and African-American voter. Indians have voted the straight Democratic ticket since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1933, when Roosevelt was first elected President of the United States, the Nation was in the midst of the Great Depression. Because he stepped in with work programs that reached most of the Indian reservations (WPA and CCC) he was a familiar figure to most Native Americans.

But something else was happening that didn't ever register with white American voters. Only nine years had passed (1924) since Native Americans had been made citizens of the United States and given the right to vote. That is they could vote in every state of the Union except in New Mexico and Arizona, two states that did not completely accept the provisions of the Act that made Indians citizens of the United States. In those two states the governments decided that if an Indian lived on a reservation and did not pay property taxes, he or she was then ineligible to vote. I say he and she because women got the right to vote before Native Americans.

It would only follow then that Native Americans were simon-pure when it came to having knowledge about national elections. Before the presidential campaign of 1932, Indians had only had the opportunity to vote in one prior election since being granted citizenship. When Election Day rolled around they were immersed in the campaign slogans of the Democrats preaching the benefits of the New Deal. Anything "new" in those days was appealing to the Indian voters. Those Indians exercising their right to vote went unanimously for Roosevelt. And thus their acceptance and inclusion as members of the Democratic Party was complete. Roosevelt had promised them a New Deal and in 1934 Congress passed the Indian Re-Organization Act.

The assumption that all Indians are Democrats was emphasized when Indianz.com, in a comedic gesture, asked for the names of the "five" Indians who had voted Republican. I think they would have been surprised at the actual number of Indians that have left the Democratic Party.

I am no longer a Democrat. Goodness gracious, did I just swear? Did I take the name of the Almighty Democrats in vain? Well, you will have to excuse my audacity and ignorance, but I am now a dyed-in-the-wool Independent. I now have the freedom to listen to the political drivel from both major parties, weigh the differences, consult with my fellow Independents, and make a choice "independent" of the Democrats and Republicans. I believe this puts me into a more traditional position (Indian-wise) than those locked, lock, stock and barrel into either of the dominant political organizations.

There will be a lot of wooing coming from both parties trying to attract the Indian vote in 2010. The Indian vote was not that attractive 20 years ago. But since about the mid-1980s, both parties have discovered that in certain states, the Indian vote can be pivotal.

Just think how much harder the Democrats and the Republicans would have to work for that Indian vote if they did not assume it was automatically theirs. Each party would have to tailor their campaign in certain states directly toward the Indian voter. Now doesn't that give Indians much greater clout than if they were taken for granted?

The advantages of becoming an Independent are many and the detractions few. It is something I encourage all Native American voters to look into, to thoroughly research, and to openly consider. The 2010 Election is just around the corner, as elections go.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com

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