By Allison Herrera
Minneapolis Minnesota has one of the largest Urban Indian populations in the country. Native people make up between 2 and 3 percent of the city’s population. For some races, that’s a make-or-break number. One organization hopes to improve Native voter turnout by talking about issues important to them, like the protests against the oil pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservations.
Jenn Hall is busy working the voter registration table at the Indigenous People’s Day pow wow in Minneapolis. She’s part of a campaign called Make Voting a Tradition through the Native American Community Development Institute, or NACDI. Since National Voter Registration Day on October 4th, Hall has registered hundreds of voters and even recruited some election judges.
“The system affects our lives whether we vote in it or not,” Hall said. “We need to recognize our own influence and elect our own leadership.”
One of those undecided voters is Stuart Perkins. He says candidates don’t pay enough attention to Native issues.
“Horrible stuff has to happen to us before anyone pays attention,” Perkins said. “Obama says keep the dream going. But what does that mean for Indian people?”
Make Voting a Tradition isn’t a new campaign. Since 2013 NACDI has worked to get people to the ballot box. They take credit for helping elect Native leadership at the city and state levels.
Robert Lilligren, NACDI’s director says President Obama energized a lot of Native people and his engagement with Native communities continues in the next administration. He acknowledges there’s work to do just to get people to the polls.
“The state of Minnesota has historically high voter turnout in federal elections–right around 80%,” Lilligren said. “But then there’s a huge dropoff when you get to Native communities and Native voters. And so this is an effort to close that disparity.”
Lilligren points to issues like clean water, the environment and the activism at Standing Rock pipeline construction as issues that people relate to right now. acknowledges that more work needs to be done
The City of Minneapolis praised NACDI for their get out the vote efforts. But, they know if they want really close that disparity, they need to be knocking on doors all the way up until election day-and that’s exactly what they plan on doing.