By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
We are citizens of many jurisdictions. My blood and heritage make me a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation. The geography of where I reside makes me a citizen of the town of Clyde, of the county of Haywood, of the state of North Carolina and of the United States of America. As a citizen, I have a right that is also a privilege and responsibility, to vote on certain issues of law, communal spending and governmental leadership.
Native people did not get the right to vote in other municipalities readily. “Not all Native peoples were granted U.S. citizenship until 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act. Until then many Native Americans were prohibited from voting in local, state and federal elections. Even after the passage of the act, many states denied voting Native Americans voting privileges-New Mexico Natives were given the vote in 1962 and ‘Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico and Washington prohibited ‘Indians not taxed’ from voting as late as 1968…’ (1) During the 1950s and 1960s, under pressure from the Civil Rights Movement and other movements, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 put protections in place so that Native Americans and other could not be hindered.” (www.oneidanation.org)
Not so long ago, the Native voices of America were silenced in the forum that it mattered most, governmental elections. Much is made in our culture of honoring the efforts and traditions of the past. Our grandparents and great-grandparents suffered in order that we could have sovereignty and freedom. They fought for our right to participate in those elections and have a say in any leadership that might have an impact on Native lives.
Ernest L. Stevens, Jr. (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, in a 2008 commentary stated, “By going to the polls, in record numbers once again, your voice will solidify the Native voice in Washington, D.C. and will be the difference in making sure that the leaders we elect will join us in defending our sovereignty and are committed to serving the interests of Indian country.
“All around the country, in every major election over the past few years our vote has made a tremendous difference. That is why pushing the Native vote has been a priority in this electoral cycle…They know that the Indian country vote will once again make a difference.
“We must select people who will work on behalf of the best interests of Indian country regarding adequate health care, quality education, the right to fully govern our lands and to protect our tribal citizenry, and the right to see that our nation’s commitments to tribes are fulfilled. The price of not voting is too high right now, with potential budget cuts to Indian county programs as a result of the economic crisis.
“Many say that one vote will not make a difference and many people mistakenly believe that what happens on Capitol Hill has nothing to do with their daily lives. That is simply not true.” (www.indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com)
As part of the March 15 primary election in North Carolina, in addition to town, county, state and federal leadership decisions, there is an education bond on the table that will have direct impact on the tribal students who attend Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College. A positive vote on the bond will inject $117 .17 million into the higher education in these two institutions. The money is earmarked for building projects that would also result in job creation and economic growth.
WCU Chancellor Belcher said, “For our community colleges, passage of the bond issue would generate more than $350 million in new construction and renovation projects that will equip these institutions to meet the demands of a 21st century workforce.”
Some of that workforce includes our Cherokee men and women.
Cherokee people are impacted by what other municipalities, state and federal government officials do. Inter-governmental relationships matter because not only do the municipalities adjoining the Qualla Boundary have impact on tribal members, but tribal members are scattered across the U.S. in other jurisdictions.
How much passion and emotion have we experienced over Nikwasi Mound, the disinterment of ancestral remains at construction sites in the Southeast, and hundreds of day-to-day taxation and property rights issues for those living off-Boundary? From land use privileges to abuse of Native identity in sports mascots to the right to establish casino gaming, who we vote for and how we vote on issues affects Cherokee lives and families. Cherokee votes count. Cherokee votes have impact.