Native Americans offer perspectives on voting in elections outside their nations

Nov 6, 2018

(left to right) Simon Moya-Smith, Vincent Schilling and John Kane

Native Americans in North Dakota are facing an uphill challenge when it comes to their voting access rights. A recent change to that state’s voting law now requires all voters to have a street address listed on their ID – something many Native Americans living on North Dakota Reservations have never had. But what is the Native perspective on voting in American elections?


“If somebody says, yes you can vote, but you have to jump through this hoop. Then we just scurry to jump through that hoop without even asking, what is that hoop?” asked John Kane, a Mohawk radio host and activist based on the Seneca Cattaraugus Reservation.

Kane believes that Natives voting in federal and state elections seemingly hurt their own claims at sovereignty.

“If I was to say, ‘OK, even though I have my own government and I’m going to argue that I’m sovereign, and I’m all for de-colonization, but I’m going vote in state and national election? There’s a contradiction there,” said Kane.

But the issue still stands divided across Indian Country.

“If we are to maintain our sovereignty, then we have to fight for it,” said Simon Moya-Smith, an Oglala Lakota writer and reporter.

“One of those tools is voting. It’s in our best interest to vote in people who think like we do, who want to protect the land, who want to protect the water. Who do want to continue our government to government relation rather than dissolve it.” Moya-Smith sees Natives sitting out elections as giving up.

“You’re basically giving them an open door,” he said.

“You’re like, ‘You know what, I don’t want to participate in your system.’ And they’re going to be like, ‘Fine, we’re going to do whatever the hell we want.’”

Vincent Schilling is a Mohawk and Associate Editor for Indian Country Today. He can see both sides, especially when examining the traditional Iroquois Confederacy.

“We had a system of coming together as a unit to say, ‘We will not make a decision until we all make a collective decision.’ So it may not have been using a ballot box, but we did vote, or give consent or dissent,” said Schilling.

One thing is certain: more Native Americans are getting involved in the political process than ever before. Over 100 are running for elected federal, state, and local offices across the nation.