From today’s New York Times:
What do the 573 federally recognized nations of American Indians and Alaska Natives all have in common? A never-ending need for lawyers. The Frank LaMere Native American Presidential Forumheld this week in Sioux City, Iowa, at which 11 presidential candidates fielded questions from indigenous elected officials and activists, was a rousing two-day argument for an informed, experienced, compassionate and rational president. Sponsored by Four Directions, the South Dakota-based advocates for native voting rights, it was also a sobering reminder that the road to equality in the United States is paved with outrage, elbow grease and paperwork.
No American citizen should have to drive 100 miles to vote, especially if the roads to a far-flung polling place are maintained by the chronically underfunded Bureau of Indian Affairs. (On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, two people died in July because of a washed-out section of highway on BIA Road 3.) Janet Davis, of Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Council, quizzed Marianne Williamson and Bernie Sanders about voting access. She explained that in 2016, her tribe and the Walker River Paiutes won a lawsuit to establish satellite polling places on their reservations. (From Pyramid Lake, the county’s nearest voting site had been a 96-mile round trip.)
Ms. Davis happened to be seated on the stage next to Senator Sanders. She told him, “The county told us it was too late to recruit and train poll workers and we told them we could and we did.” Senator Sanders patted her arm and smiled, revealing an uncharacteristic split second of what appeared to be actual joy.
Ms. Davis asked him, “How will you ensure that all Native Americans on reservations have the same access without having to litigate as we did?” His answer echoed Ms. Williamson’s suggestion earlier that morning, that a president who cares will appoint an effective attorney general. (Which is true in that an attorney general can prosecute violations of election law, though states and counties generally control polling locations.) But the real answer, to paraphrase the “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” is that obtaining freedoms is almost always a hassle. All American Indians received full citizenship in 1924, and yet the indigenous people of New Mexico were still suing for suffrage in 1962.
In Minnesota, Four Directions and its native partners were able to negotiate with the state to open satellite polling places on the Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake Reservations without litigation. (Good old Minnesotans; unlike the rest of us they might actually deserve Amy Klobuchar.) But in South Dakota and here in Montana, successfully opening satellite polling places on reservations required legal action.
Read the complete article here.