An upcoming State Bar of Arizona program explores the continued barriers to Native American electoral participation.

An upcoming State Bar of Arizona program explores the continued barriers to Native American electoral participation.

Still unsure what barriers prevent or dissuade Native American participation in the electoral process? As we head into election season, the barriers to exercising the franchise—and progress eradicating those barriers—will be addressed in a Phoenix program on Thursday, October 20.

Titled “Political Buy-In: A Look at the Barriers to (and) Participation of Native Americans in Tribal, State and Federal Elections,” organizers at the State Bar of Arizona describe it this way:

“This program will examine both the advances in Native American participation in all levels of elections and the continued barriers to effective participation in the election process. Participants can expect to gain a broad overview of how redistricting efforts, voter ID laws, and language barriers continue to marginalize Native Americans at the polls. The program will also look at possible changes to Native American participation at the federal level.”

A public radio program this week illustrates just how basic some of those barriers can be. In this story, journalist Carrie Jung spoke with Native Americans who face clear and existential obstacles to participating in elections.

Among those barriers are language challenges; traveling large distances, perhaps without a car; and even obtaining a voter ID when you have no formal address.

As Lori Riddle told Jung, “We’re used to giving directions out here by landmarks. There’s a tree. There’s two trees. There’s a big bush with purple flowers on it. [Poll workers have] tried to turn me away on a few occasions, even though they knew me.”

Among the topics to be discussed at the October 20 seminar are:

  • Voting Accessibility Act
  • Voter treatment in the polling places
  • Current lobbying trends in Native American Country
  • Implications of lack of early access voting for Native American voters
  • Constitutional guarantees

Panelists will be:

  • Heather Sibbison, Dentons LLP, Washington, DC
  • Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
  • James T. Tucker, Armstrong Teasdale LLP, Las Vegas, NV
  • Mary O’Grady, Osborn Maledon PA, Phoenix

The seminar chair will be Virjinya Torrez, Assistant Attorney General for the Tohono O’odham Nation.

You can register here.

If you’re wondering why all this still matters in 2016, Patty Ferguson-Bohnee breaks it down as she speaks to KJZZ’s Carrie Jung:

“We’re the first people of the United States. And when people face these roadblocks, sometimes they’re not empowered. And we want to empower people. We’re a democracy.”

Speaker photos are below (click to enlarge).

A sample of photos by Matika Wilbur, via Project 562.

A sample of photos by Matika Wilbur, via Project 562.

If you’re fortunate enough to have today off for Indigenous People’s Day, I’ve got a suggestion for the best place to spend it: The Heard Museum in Phoenix, which has a series of events to commemorate the day.

Here is a list of the events, which begin at 12:30 p.m.

You may have heard that the Phoenix City Council voted that the city would celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. That makes it the largest U.S. city to celebrate the annual event.

As the news story reported:

The proposal to create Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Phoenix emerged in May, when residents Jeff Malkoon and Carlos Bravo submitted to the city an application for a historical commemoration.

“The city of Phoenix is built on what was the Hohokam civilization,” Malkoon told council members. “We just think this is a significant statement for a city like Phoenix, being such a center point in the Southwest.”

And this is part of a growing national trend, as CNN reports.

In what was a great preview of Monday’s Heard events, audience members at the Heard Sunday afternoon heard from two artists and two lawyers on the intersection of art, Indian identity and law. (I wrote about the event here.)

That gathering included insights from artists Matika Wilbur and Gregg Deal.

Deal’s film “The Last American Indian on Earth” was screened. It shows, in surprising and occasionally humorous ways, the complicated relationship mainstream American society has with Native culture.

Wearing a faux historic Indian costume (manufactured in China, for good measure), Deal strode about Washington DC. The reactions he got were troubling and laden with meaning.

As Deal says in the voiceover, “When you let the cameras roll, Americans, they don’t disappoint.”

As one hand-written sign he holds tells passersby, “My spirit animal is white guilt.”

L to R at the Heard Museum panel on Indian identity, art, and law, Oct. 9, 2016: Matika Wilbur, Kevin Gover, Gregg Deal, Brett Shelton.

L to R at the Heard Museum panel on Indian identity, art, and law, Oct. 9, 2016: Matika Wilbur, Kevin Gover, Gregg Deal, Brett Shelton.

Matika Wilbur then spoke, presenting her itinerant photo experience with Project 562, which aims to photograph citizens of each federally recognized tribe in the United States (there are now 566).

As she describes on her site:

“Most of the time, I’ve been invited to geographically remote reservations to take portraits and hear stories from a myriad of tribes, while at other times I’ve photographed members of the 70 percent of Native Americans living in urban settings. My hope is that when the project is complete, it will serve to educate the nation and shift the collective consciousness toward recognizing our own indigenous communities.”

A longtime educator from Seattle, Wilbur asked, “When are we going to stop asking our children to choose between cultural education and Western education?”

Wilbur also spoke about how Indian identity is “inextricably connected to the land.” Discussing the sensation known as solastalgia—separation from home—she wondered how the Cocopah, for instance, known as the people of the blue-green water, could be Cocopah if access to that water is denied or destroyed.

In the subsequent panel discussion, attorney Kevin Gover addressed that issue and the way violations have been visited on Native peoples by the American legal system. For example, in Fletcher v. Peck (1810), the U.S. Supreme Court determined that Indian title to land was not true title, as Indians were itinerant hunters and had never been farmers—an absolute misstatement of the facts. But it was decisions like that which provided the veneer of law to unjust decisions.

In fact, Gover pointed out, the most famous Native-land-title cases were collusive ones, manufactured conflicts presented by land speculators to prod a desired outcome from a compliant Court. To America’s enduring shame, the Court proved a willing co-conspirator in the effort.

The American legal system, Gover said, “played a huge role in the removal and dispossession of Native peoples.”

Through their art, Matika Wilbur and Gregg Deal explore America’s complicated relationship with Native peoples. As a teacher, Wilbur reminded the audience that these mainstream viewpoints are learned ones, and that the dominant Western view of Indians helps shield society from honest appraisals.

To illustrate that, she showed search results in Google images from searches for the simple terms “African American,” “Asian American,” “Hispanic American,” and, finally, “Native American.”

Among all of those searches, the Native American search was the only one that yielded an almost uniform view of Indians as historic beings—and actually as faux historic beings. Nearly every image reconfirms the popular image of Indians as conceptualized 150 years ago.

Google image search results for "Native American," Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for “Native American,” Oct. 9, 2016.

Where are the modern Indians who live among us, Wilbur asked.

They are all about us, Wilbur and Deal said. If people are willing to see.

Again, here are today’s Heard Museum events.

Google image search results for "Asian American," Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for “Asian American,” Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for "African American," Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for “African American,” Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for "Hispanic American," Oct. 9, 2016.

Google image search results for “Hispanic American,” Oct. 9, 2016.

 

Professor Sarah Deer (photo: MacArthur Foundation)

Professor Sarah Deer (photo: MacArthur Foundation)

Professor Sarah Deer (a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation in Oklahoma) will speak and be recognized on Monday, May 2, at ASU’s Labriola Center, in Hayden Library, Tempe.

Deer is the recipient of the eighth annual Labriola Center American Indian Book Award for her 2015 book The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America. The event will be held at 2:00 p.m., when she will participate in an interview with Dr. David Martinez, American Indian Studies Faculty.

Professor Deer is a legal scholar who in part is well known for her significant scholarship regarding violence against Native American women. She is a 2014 MacArthur Fellow and authored Amnesty International’s “Maze of Injustice” Report (2007).

You can read a helpful review of her work here.

As Deer told the Indian Country Today Media Network:

“The advantage the tribes have at this point in our nation’s history is that many tribes do not yet have comprehensive anti-rape strategies in law, which is understandable given the legal system and the challenges that tribal nations face in addressing these types of crimes.”

“So there’s a perfect opportunity to say, ‘What would a good anti-rape strategy look like from the ground up if we don’t have the baggage and the trappings of American rape law, which is deeply problematic? What can we do outside of that construct?’ If tribes are really able to deal with rape without falling into the same mistakes that the American system has made, then they might indeed come up with models that could work for rape victims throughout the world,” says Deer.

American Indian book award Sarah Deer sexual violence in Native America