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Vote (If You Want To & Can)

MATIKA WILBUR: Welcome back, we're glad you're here. Happy Indigenous People's Day, Adrienne,

ADRIENNE KEENE: Happy Indigenous People’s Day, Matika.

MATIKA: You know, it's really important to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day over our traditional American and assimilation practices, I mean, over genocide. And we actually did a whole episode. We did a whole episode about this last year.

ADRIENNE: Right. If you want to hear us kind of be snarky and talk about all the reasons why you should not support Columbus and should instead support Indigenous Peoples’ Day, you can definitely check that one out. It's short and we'll post it on our social media feed. I do want to mention and it was something I realized, thanks to folks on Instagram, that in that episode we don't ever name Taino people as like the folks who actually met Columbus's ships and experienced the devastation following that. So I want to make sure that we center that idea and that community when we're talking about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. So shout it to the Taino people who are still here and still holding it down even after all of that.

MATIKA: You would think that this would be like my favorite day of the year, but instead Indigenous Peoples’ Day is always a day that I work the most. How about you?

ADRIENNE: Yes, it's like good and bad. I'm always honored that people want me to, like, come speak on their campuses and stuff. But I'm also like, you can have me any time, just not October 12th.

MATIKA: Every day can be Indigenous Peoples Day.

ADRIENNE: And I know for like a lot of us, this kind of starts the downward slope of bad representations. Though this year there's a few things like normally it's, you know, Indigenous People's Day slash celebrating that genocidal explorer. And then it's Halloween and then it's Thanksgiving and it's football season, et cetera, et cetera. But this year, we don't have to worry about the Washington R-words. So that's exciting.

MATIKA: That's a big come up. And also, you know, this year there's been a lot of statues taken down. You know, I wonder if they're going to be replaced with dope Indigenous people like you. I'd make a statue for you.

ADRIENNE: Please don't. I don't I don't need a statue. That's. But thank you. I guess I am honored. Maybe. But also, I mean, there's been some, like, major movement around Halloween, too. I just like helped out a little bit with Pinterest is doing this huge campaign to like remove offensive costumes from their site. And anytime you like, search on Pinterest for Indian or Native American Halloween costume, you get an educational pin that links to an article that I wrote about why it is bad. So that's cool. And Spirit Halloween store took all of their Native costumes off their website. So they're the largest Halloween retailer. That's a huge thing. So I think in the world of representations, we're doing a little better. Too bad we have a world ending election coming.

MATIKA: Yeah, and that's what we're here to talk about today. And we're going to talk a little about the nuance and complicity of saying “go vote” to Indian country. You know, because I always feel really uncomfortable being like, you should vote, you should vote. Knowing that I'm telling people to participate in a system that wasn't designed for them and that has tried to oppress them, assimilate them, terminate them, us, our communities, our sovereignty, our self-determination, our right to be who we are. And then, you know, could you just go participate in that system, please?

ADRIENNE: Right. Complicated. Yeah, to say the least.

MATIKA: Let's jump right in and talk a little about the history of the Native vote and the history of the suppression of the Native vote. I got to tell you that when Trump first got elected, I felt like so sick to my stomach. I and I spent a good amount of time reflecting on my own personal behavior, like thinking to myself, did I do enough to, you know, like try to make this not happen, you know, and the answer is, you know, I don't often talk about national politics, both through Project 562 on my blog personally, you know, because I I find it incredibly problematic and uncomfortable to talk about because, you know, we're living in a colonial state and the federal government has actively tried to eradicate us. And there's a long history of broken promises and broken treaties. Therefore, it feels very uncomfortable to say to my fellow Native people, you know, go vote in the system that's not meant for us that doesn't actually ever do the things that it's said it's going to do. But go vote anyways, you know, so it feels I feel like a hypocrite just saying it. But I really feel like we need to talk about it, right?

ADRIENNE: Yeah. It is by no means a simple decision for folks in Indian country. And I think that's really important to acknowledge and to think about as we start to talk about this election and what we need to do.

MATIKA: Right. And, you know, there has been a long history of active Native vote suppression for the first hundred and fifty years in this country. We weren't even allowed to vote. And then in 1924 came the Indian Citizenship Act, which formally made us US citizens. But states continued to prevent us from voting.

ADRIENNE: Right. I think sometimes there's memes and stuff that get posted where it's like going through the different marginalized groups and when they finally got the right to vote and it often says, like Native Americans 1924. But we know for a fact that that's not true because as you just said, most states still had things in place to prevent Native folks from voting, like it wasn't until 1948 that Natives in Arizona got the right to vote. And then all of that suppression that played into the passage of the Voting Rights Act. So in 1975. So the things like literacy tests or poll taxes or all of these suppression techniques that affected other communities of color, Black folks also affected Native folks as well.

MATIKA: There's all of these appalling facts that have led to all of these underlying issues and voting cases as to why our people have not shown up to the polls in the same numbers. You know, I I often get asked, you know, like, well, when I tell, when I'm having this conversations with non-Native people and say, yeah, like a lot of Native people that I know aren't don't vote. Or if you look at the numbers, you know, you would you might think to yourself, like, well, why wouldn't Native people be active in this process? And I just want to acknowledge that it's it's very systemic. Done on purpose.

ADRIENNE: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And I mean this so we're like giving the dates from like 1924 or 1948, 1975. But like in 2018, North Dakota changed their ID laws to say that if you were voting you had to have an I.D. that had a street address on it. And most Native folks in North Dakota use P.O. boxes and don't have street addresses. So it was like an active step to try and suppress Native vote in North Dakota because Natives have power in voting in North Dakota and in a lot of states that have high Native population. So like this is an ongoing thing for Native communities.

MATIKA: And then that actually, that actually didn't work out well for North Dakota because all of these activists came together and got really good publicity. There was a lot of grassroots organizations. And then was it Ruth Buffalo ended up taking that seat anyways. So so, you know, I think that's a really good demonstration of the power of the Native vote, especially in rural areas of Turtle Island. What I should add to this conversation around. You know, like the power of the Native vote and the complicity of us even telling each other to vote is that, you know, we want to have a relationship with the people that get elected. Even if Biden beats Trump, it's not going to fix the colonial problem that we have, right?

ADRIENNE: Yeah, I mean, it's hard because there are definitely things we can talk about that are like. Immediate undoing of things that the Trump administration has done that have been really harmful to Native communities, but there is also an entire list of things that are not going to happen even under a Biden administration. And there's this quote that I saw on the wall of the Harvard Law School like years and years ago. And I think about it often in terms of these ideas of justice or like doing what's right from the federal government. I will say it's problematic because it's only attributed as a quote African proverb, which obviously is really problematic. But the the quote is “Corn cannot expect justice from a court composed of chickens”. And I think about that in terms of Natives asking for equal treatment or justice from the U.S. colonial government is like corn expecting justice from a court made of chickens like on the most obvious, I mean, we can extend the metaphor as long as we want, but like in that scenario, they want to eat us. They want us to disappear. And I think about that all the time.

MATIKA: Just to make it clear, to make it clear they want to eat us.

ADRIENNE: I mean, I'm laughing because I'm silly, not because the situation is not serious, because it is like our lives really depend on it.

MATIKA: Yeah. You know, I was really, really taken aback by the last debate when there was these obvious racial slurs being thrown around, you know, with in the very beginning that didn't seem to make national headlines. And then also the conversation didn't really center around him saying, like studying critical race theory is un-American. You know, like it was it was so offensive in so many ways. And I want to center Indigenous voices and especially I want to hear from you, Adrienne, about what you think about that as a professor of critical race theory.

ADRIENNE: I mean, it's critical race theory in that scenario has come to stand in for like something that he has imagined in his head. It's not the actual meaning behind the set of scholarship of critical race theory. And I don't know, like I have a whole syllabus about CRT that is online if folks really actually want to know about it and realize that it's just a framework for understanding the system of race and racism in what is currently known as the United States. It's not anything that is anti-white or whatever he seems to think it is. But yeah, I would be really surprised if Trump had actually read any critical race theory whatsoever.

MATIKA: I think it would be a good time now for us to talk a little bit about why this administration has been so harmful to Indian country, you know, for those that maybe haven't had a chance to reflect on it and it's in the wholeness. I mean, I don't know, maybe maybe it doesn't help at all to talk about why Trump has been so bad for us, because it just sort of brings you down. Like after I amassed this list, I was just like ah I felt sick all over again. Yeah. Like, you know, this is this is traumatic, you know, like. I feel like I'm in an abusive relationship.

ADRIENNE: Yeah, I mean, and that's always been our relationship with the government. Yeah, I mean, like we we can list things we can like talk about the, like, rollbacks to all of the environmental protection laws. We can talk about the pushing for drilling in the Arctic Refuge. We can I mean, there's on and on we can talk about so many things. The Mashpee Wampanoag Land Out of Trust case. And the reality is these are lived experiences for people in Indian country, like we're living this every day. So for non-Natives like these might seem like kind of small blips on the screen of all of the wildness going on in this administration. But like these are things that have such deep implications for our ability to have a relationship with the land. Like as I'm looking at this list, that's what a lot of these are. It's like if we're thinking about the border wall, if we're thinking about of advancing the construction of DAPL, like all of these things that we wrote down, just brainstorming and like, these are all, Bears Ears. These are all things about our ability to have a relationship with our land.

MATIKA: And our safety of body also. Yes. Right. And that those two are connected and that there isn't there there isn't separation between land and identity, you know, so an affront on the land is an affront on the body of Indigenous people, their nationhood, their sovereignty, but their their ability to carry on as far as the way that they see themselves, the way that they interact as human beings with the world around them. And so, like, you know. The difference between environmental protection movements or environmental justice is, as you know, like under a white framework, is very different than environmental justice in an Indigenous community. And I've been thinking about ways to discuss that for this chapter in my book and writing a lot about about it recently and reflecting on, you know, how each time our our land is violated, we we get further from from our traditional understandings of ourselves. And so I, I. I feel really personally attacked by this administration and, you know, I was thinking about this like what happened, like what happened with our relatives in Mashpee Wampanoag with taking the land out of trust and realizing that that's the first time that that's actually happened since the termination era. And that that that's a real thing that that is that we're still fighting is just the right to remain nations. And. And I just it just makes me sick.

ADRIENNE: Yeah. And I mean, Trump has been anti-Indigenous sovereignty on the deepest level since like the 90s. I mean, he lobbied in Congress at a hearing to stop gaming in the state of Connecticut and said something like incredibly racist things at that hearing in front of everyone about like that these are not real Indians because they don't look like Indians to him. And then there's a line that I quote in a lot of my talks, which has become even more ironic since we now know what Trump's tax returns look like. But he frames it that Natives are getting something unfairly. And he said, you're saying only Indians can have the reservations, only Indians can have the gaming. So why aren't you approving it for everybody? Why are you being discriminatory? Why is it that the Indians don't pay tax but everyone else does? I do. Which we now know is a big fat lie. But to me that's really scary that the president of what is currently known as the United States believes the inherent rights of sovereignty are discriminatory to white people is really scary to me.

ADRIENNE: NCIA has little info graphic that I was looking at, the National Congress of American Indians, and it's really helpful in kind of seeing the power of Native votes in a lot of these states that are kind of like purple, have possibilities of swinging blue. I mean, some of the examples of the margins of vote. So like the state of South Dakota has 55,000 eligible Native voters. And in 2002, Senator Tim Johnson, who's a Democrat, was reelected by 500 votes. And the pivotal votes, like the final ones that came in to push him over, came from Pine Ridge.

MATIKA: Right. And in 2010, Senator Lisa Murkowski, who’s a Republican credit her victory to the Alaska Native voters that supported her as she was written in in the election.

ADRIENNE: Which is wild. And I mean, there's there's plenty more examples like John Tester in Montana won with less than 20,000 votes. And the support was really from tribal nations because there are 57.000 eligible Native voters in Montana on and on I think there are a lot of examples of how Natives can be really instrumental. I mean, there's almost three hundred and seventy thousand Native voters in the state of Oklahoma or one hundred and seventy nine thousand in the state of New Mexico. Like these are big numbers that can really make an actual change. But given those big numbers, according to NCIA, there are one point two million Native folks or thirty four percent of our population that are not registered to vote.

MATIKA: Voting, you know, like voting is about wielding power. You know, it's about doing what is in our best interest. And, you know, when we are voting, we're thinking about people that we want to employ and people that we can have a relationship with. So it's not just voting for the national presidential election, but, you know, voting all the way down, you know, through the entire ballot from the state to county and thinking about having relationships with those people and how having relationships with those people is going to impact our community, you know, and I think whether we want to participate in the election or not, we're definitely going to be impacted by the election. And so, you know, the way that, like every single aspect of our lives is will be impacted by this election. And that that gives me anxiety, too, because I think about like, you know, like personally what is going to happen in the next six months with our with our communities that are being so dramatically impacted by COVID.

ADRIENNE: I think of how many people from our communities we've had to go to funerals for and have lost and are permanently injured from COVID, and that was due to the federal government response and the communities that have been better off are the ones, the Native communities that took matters into their own hands and like did weekend lockdowns and prevented outsiders from coming in. And like in South Dakota, the tribes are the only ones who are doing any type of protection of their people. So, yeah, the federal government's not going to save us, but it also can really harm us in a lot of really scary ways.

MATIKA: So should you decide to vote, there's some really good resources and ways. You know, there's like everybody keeps talking about having a plan, you know, like have a plan to vote, get registered, find out, you know, like what's going to happen with your ballot in your state when the deadline is. Some of those have already passed, unfortunately, but there's still a lot of time and a lot of different places. And whether or not you are going to be able to mail in your ballot or whether you have to do that in person, you know, et cetera, et cetera. So for that, I really like, because there's, you know, a really easy dropdown window for your state and to see what the rules are in your state and you can put in your zip code and from that you can you can also check to see if you're actually registered, because sometimes we think we're registered and then you go on to check it and you're like, oh, no, my address is actually changed.

ADRIENNE: And also, I recommend, look, I was going to do a mail in ballot for my state and I looked up the requirements online of the ways that your mail in ballot can get rejected. And one of them that I didn't even think about is that your signature has to match your signature on your state I.D. and my state ID signature or on my driver's license, I had to sign it on that little like pad thing and you can't see what you're signing and it looks like a total mess. There's no way I could replicate that if I wanted to. But if I didn't, then my ballot could be in danger of being thrown out. So things like that are important to be aware of and recognize and make sure that your vote really is going to count.

MATIKA: And then outside of that, there's other ways, you know, to to participate. One of the things that a lot of people have been talking to me about is the census. You know, like did you fill out your census yet? Like, my aunties keep asking me that question. And I'm like, no, I didn’t. But I realized that it's very important, you know, because it's where allocates, you know, billions of dollars in federal funding and federal funding deeply impacts our programs on our tribes, you know.

ADRIENNE: We now have until October 31st to fill out the census. And that was something that that people had to fight for. And again, just like with voting, we recognized the inherent distrust of the federal government and who wants to give all your info to them. But it really is the way that a lot of federal funds that are promised to us through treaty obligations get to our communities and also making sure on the census to write your tribal name in the way that is accepted by the federal government because that's how they count tribal members. So like Choctaw Nation had a big campaign of of writing in Choctaw Nation because they wanted to make sure there was it was easy to tell between Choctaw Nation and Mississippi Choctaw. So thinking about those kinds of things are important as well. There also are a bunch of other podcasts that are coming out just about Native voting, like Indian Collective has a new one called Sko Vote Den that you can listen to. But I think and we'll put the links in the show notes so you can hear those conversations because they're really powerful, too. But I think the more information, the better. And the more resources, the better and the more informed people can feel about their decision whether to vote or not is really important to me.

MATIKA: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, like the uprising is happening. It is not OK that the Trump administration or that Trump at the last debate was talking like refuses to condemn white supremacy. That is that is not OK. And so now we we are given no choice but to have these discussions over and over and over again because we believe, you know, or would like to move towards equality. Ideally, you know, like, hey, can we talk about liberation and justice? I mean, you know,

ADRIENNE: Well, corn cannot expect justice from a court made of chickens. But I mean, that's actually the very important point, is that. I definitely don't see voting or participating in this system as the end goal, and I think that's very clear from our tone with this. Like I see this as a necessity for this moment that we are in because our lives really do depend on it. But I also think that we need to keep doing the amazing work that we're already doing within our communities to build these otherwise spaces, to imagine an Indigenous future that doesn't include the racist federal government that can be rooted in our our Indigenous values and knowledges and all of these things that we talk about on the podcast. That's what I want, is I want that future that is outside of the system of colonization. But we need to keep building that while we vote right now because it's not one or the other. It's both for me as one person.

MATIKA: Yeah, right they’re. They're not mutually exclusive. So I just want to say to all of our relatives out there that I know it's a tough time right now and that we're in this collective moment and that we're with you in spirit and mind and in solidarity, that my prayers and my love go out to all of you and each and every one of you and thanks for listening. And we hope that that you are able to get through the next couple of weeks, you know, with as little emotional fatigue as possible. I know it's been a really challenging time for me emotionally. And and I feel exhausted by this current political moment. And so I want to extend my love and prayers to all of you.

ADRIENNE: I agree. I just have been thinking so much about all of you out there and all of our relatives who are experiencing so many challenging things all at once because of the pandemic and because of the political climate and because of the normal everyday experience of being an Indigenous person in this country. And it's hard. And I mean, like we've taken kind of a light tone with some of this conversation, but it's it's definitely not a light conversation. And just echoing Matika as good thoughts and prayers to everyone and knowing that we send our love out, as always.

MATIKA: Mm hmm.

ADRIENNE: Go vote if you want to.


ADRIENNE: That's our slogan. Vote if you want to and maybe bring your grandma with you or uncle or cousin. Yeah.

MATIKA: And like, go vote if you can. I mean, like, let's just like we didn't even acknowledge the fact that for some people like like in Navajo Nation

ADRIENNE: Oh my God, you got to drive six hours to go vote. Yeah.

MATIKA: You know, and that's a real part of voter suppression.

ADRIENNE: How about OK, let's amend the slogan to go vote if you want to and if you can.

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