Native American Voting Rights Research at Claremont Graduate University

Native American Voting Rights Research at Claremont Graduate University


– A former student of mine,
a man named Darren Marquez, from the San Manuel
Band of Mission Indians began talking to me about
the constant barriers that Native Americans face in terms of accessing the ballot box. I just started digging as an academic trying to see what kind of barriers. Well then as happenstance would have it, Darren passed my name onto other people who were working on voting rights in states including South Dakota, Montana and eventually Nevada. So, I began working particularly with a group called Four Directions in the Rosebud Sioux
Reservation in South Dakota and then I was asked to assist the NAVRC, Native American Voting Rights Group, with some of it’s work. In the summer of 2016, the NAVRC had gotten funding from the Kellogg Foundation
to do the first ever serious survey research on reservations and in this case Four Directions with students from CGU and me, did surveys throughout reservations in South Dakota and Nevada. – Dr. Schroedel reached out to myself and several students and asked us to come on this trip and decided it was a
really great opportunity, one to get to know other students, to get to see the kind of work that Dr. Schroedel does on the ground and also to understand what is it like to collect data in the field. – To go along with that, what she ended up doing was running a policy course at the same time that allowed us to simultaneously kinda learn the more intricacies of histories of what had happened in regards to Native
American voting rights and Native American citizenship. So kinda doing the academic side of that which then culminated in
us going on this trip. – I did not know what to expect at first, but I thought it would
be a good opportunity to really take a look at something in action other than what we’d been
learning in books at that time. – We went and we surveyed almost 1,500 members of the different tribes, and the survey really was to determine what kinds of issues
they did or did not have with respect to registration and voting. In a number of cases people
hadn’t truly realized how much of a barrier they faced, how their situation was
different from others because the discrimination in some
ways had become so normalized. – Locations for voting were
not on reservation land so they would actually have to travel outside of their reservation and sometimes that’s not possible. – Typically what happens when there are distances that
people have to travel to vote, you’ll find that as a
distance gets greater most populations people will
switch to voting by mail. This does not work for American Indians for a couple reasons. One is most of them do
not get mail at home. But the other issue
that comes into play is they do not trust the
local election officials to actually count their ballot. – So the methods that were used during this research trip was what we were also exposed to through theoretical
learning in the classroom. – From an Indigenous perspective we, even as traditional social scientists, could approach the issue from a sense of understanding a story. For myself and my colleagues it helped us to slow down and to welcome conversation and because of that we were able to have
these really powerful, transformative conversations. Specifically with the
Elders of some of the tribes who saw that yes we were
there to conduct a survey but also we were curious. – If you don’t know the human side of it, if you don’t know the stories behind why we’re collecting this
data in the first place, then you lose a huge chunk of what the purpose of social science is. – The goal of this research project was to gather data that
would help to support a case, whether or not there was vote abridgment or voter suppression happening amongst the Native American populations in Nevada and in South Dakota. – So on election day Native Americans do have access to polls on the reservations at
their local high schools, at their community centers That was not the issue that this group, Four Directions,
what suspicious of. What they were curious about was whether or not the Native communities were being denied access to
early voting opportunities and methods that were made
easily and readily available to other communities within the state. – I mean the state of
Nevada has satellites all over the state that are
designed to increase voting, to make it convenient but they did not have any
on a single reservation. So this lawsuit, it was
Sanchez v. Cegavske, they used the data that our surveys, that our students had compiled and for the first time some of those places had actual access that was equal to what
existed for other Nevadans. We actually did something
we can see concretely changed for the better peoples lives.

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