Native Americans could tip U.S. election vote in 18 states

As Americans head to the polls today, there’s an historic push to get Native Americans voting as well. Media, tribal organizations and political parties themselves are all encouraging Native Americans to get out and vote.

By Tim Fontaine
APTN National News

As Americans head to the polls today, there’s an historic push to get Native Americans voting as well. Media, tribal organizations and political parties themselves are all encouraging Native Americans to get out and vote.

Among the loudest voices calling for this participation is nativevote.org. The website – and campaign – is an initiative of the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest tribal organization in the US.

It’s identified 18 states where the Native American vote could make an impact on this election; most notably Alaska, where Native peoples make up 16.9 per cent of eligible voters and Oklahoma where it’s 11.1 per cent. They’ve also identified three Native American candidates running for different levels of office.

But will this get Native Americans to the polls? Political columnist Mark Trahant, from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, thinks so.

He visited the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in North Dakota where 92 per cent of eligible citizens are registered to vote.

“It’s amazing,” says Trahant. “The people there would go register to vote and then spend the rest of the day asking others, ‘are you registered? Are you going to vote?'”

What attracts voters to a particular party or candidate is as varied as the tribal members who are voting. Both Republican and Democrats have released tribal platforms in recent months but it’s difficult to measure what effect they’ve had on their targets.

John Tahsuda is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. He’s also a tribal lobbyist with Navigators Global, a Washington-based firm. Tahsuda has advised the McCain-Palin camp on Indian issues in 2008 and the Romney-Ryan campaign in this election.

Tahsuda says while the language in the both platforms is impressive it doesn’t always guide voters.

“To a certain degree, platforms are window dressing,” he says. “What they do provide is something tribes can bring to politicians after the election, to see where they stand on particular issues.”

On this side of the border, Canadian media and political analysts are all closely watching the U.S. election.

Perhaps surprisingly, many First Nation people are too.

Kevin Carter lives in Saskatoon but he’s originally from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba. His Facebook wall and Twitter feeds are peppered with political messages, photos and memes related to the US election.

Carter says many First Nations are fascinated with the US election, mainly for voyeuristic reasons.

“The US elections are more interesting because of the massive rhetoric and mudslinging that goes on.” he says.

“It’s like watching a neighbor couple fight.”