ST. PAUL — With the Democratic National Convention in full swing, delegates and lawmakers from the Upper Midwest and throughout the country on Tuesday, Aug. 18, discussed what November's General Election could mean for Indian Country and how to increase Native voter turnout.
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who endorsed the Biden-Harris Democratic presidential ticket last week, made an appearance at the party's Native American Caucus virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon. She reiterated her support for the former Vice President Tuesday, and said November's General Election is "an incredible opportunity here to ensure that Native people, that our votes are counted, that we turn out."
Flanagan, of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, is the first woman of color elected to statewide office in Minnesota, and the second Native woman voted to statewide executive office in U.S. history. By turning out the Native vote in November, as well as increasing Native representation in office down the ballot, she said Native communities can ensure that, "Things will not be done to us, but they will be done with us."
"I am hopeful (...) that Indian Country all across this nation will turn out in numbers that you have never seen before," she said. "We will deliver the states that are necessary to ensure that Joe Biden is elected president and Kamala Harris is elected vice president so we once again can truly have a partner in Indian Country."
Earlier Tuesday, on a virtual breakfast with delegates from Minnesota and the Dakotas, South Dakota Democratic Delegation Chair Kellen Returns From Scout, who is Oglala Lakota, told delegates that the state party recently launched voter outreach efforts to help Native voters register ahead of November, with a specific focus on western South Dakota.
“Voting from home is a critical tool for communities across Minnesota to have their voices heard. Some precincts vote exclusively by mail, and many Tribal Nation members vote by mail from reservations,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “This option has never been more important than during a global pandemic. We must make voting safe and accessible for all.”
"We have some of the lowest voter turnout and so we are engaging an initiative to engage our young people, doing a better job of messaging how important voting is and the impacts that voting has," Returns From Scout said. "People will definitely see the value of their voice through voting."
Native voters have historically faced barriers to casting their ballots, from 20th century battles to even gain U.S. citizenship and voting rights, to 21st century voter ID laws and inaccessible polls that disproportionately impact Indian Country. Flanagan noted in a separate Tuesday news release that Native Americans consistently vote by mail in high numbers, and recent U.S. Postal Service mailing delays have worried lawmakers over whether mail-in ballots will be delivered on time.
With increased outreach and accessibility measures, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and one of two Native women in Congress, said Tuesday afternoon that "the Native vote has the power to shift this entire election."
"I’m talking about Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota, South Dakota, North Carolina," she said. "Look, the number of states that can be impacted by the Native vote cannot be overstated. Your voices are so important."