by Christine Trudeau
North Dakota’s Native youth played a significant role in parts of the state to help get out the Native vote last November. Youth-led groups like the Turtle Mountain Youth Council reached out through numerous Facebook Live events and other forms of social media leading up to Election Day to help get young voters engaged. College students and other young people were among those who were affected by the state’s voter ID law during the 2018 midterm election.
Longtime North Dakota Native vote organizer Prairie Rose Seminole, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes said, in a state of “do-er’s” the Turtle Mountain Youth Council stepped up to join that tradition in a big way.
“I went up there, and they’re calling through the phonebook for the second time to make sure people had rides, knew where they voted, and then they were marching in a blizzard,” Seminole said. “You know I just was so in awe of what the young people were doing a Turtle Mountain.”
Colten Birkland, Youth Council vice president, was among the young people sending numerous Facebook Live updates nearly round the clock in the days leading up to and throughout election day. In one he’s marching with other young people from their local high school to a nearby polling site in temperatures close to single digits.
“We made it,” Birkland said in the video. “This is a statement for anybody who is watching, and everybody
who is listening, we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”
But their get-out-the-vote efforts didn’t start or stop there. With help from voting rights advocacy group Four Directions, and the Turtle Mountain Tribal Chairman Jamie Azure, they organized a hundred volunteers on Election Day, from poll monitors to attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund and drivers who provided rides to and from each polling site, all day. The Youth Council also set a goal to surpass the previous voter turnout for Rolette County, which includes the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians Reservation. Then Youth Council Chairwoman Alexis Davis documented the moment on Facebook Live when they hit their goal.
“4,619? We had to beat 4,169?” Davis asks while filming herself on video. “We beat it! We beat it! We beat it!”
Their continuous social media updates, volunteer calls-to-action, and appearances on local tribal radio station KEYA appears to have helped boost voter turnout. The final ballot count for Rolette County was just over 5,100–a new record.
(Top photo: screenshot of Alexis Davis and Edward Falcon, both from the Turtle Mt. Youth Council, during one of the many Facebook Live events they hosted leading up to and during Election Day 2018)
This story is a joint project with National Native News, Prairie Public Broadcasting and Solutions Journalism Network looking into how a potential setback for tribal members in North Dakota turned into a win for tribes, voters and Native candidates.