North Dakota Native Votes is hoping to ensure Indigenous voters get to the polls this year

North Dakota Native Votes is hoping to ensure Indigenous voters get to the polls this year

June 23, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

North Dakota has voted Republican in 26 out of the 32 presidential elections held since it entered the Union. And state elections follow the trend.

Donaghy says the focus now is on educating the several Nations about where, when, how, and who to vote for, as well as explaining the striking issue of voter ID laws. Although North Dakota requires voters to have a government-issued ID with a primary address, not a P.O. Box,  Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has issued some rules allowing the tribes more leniency in verifying voters and reporting back to the Secretary of State for folks who don’t have the correct identification. However, Donaghy says it’s an “administrative rule” and it is not codified. So if Burgum isn’t reelected, those special rules could be erased.

In North Dakota, approximately 5.6% of the state’s population are Native American, with residents living almost evenly split between North Dakota’s five reservations and urban areas.

The issues that face the six tribes in the state—the Standing Rock Sioux, the Lakota Dakota, the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara of Fort Berthold, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, the Spirit Lake Oyate, and the Dakota people—are overwhelming and dangerous.

For starters, the crisis of the missing and murdered Indigenous women. On average, 4 of every 5 Native American women experience violence in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, this translates to an outsized rate of deadly violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people in particular—the murder rate of this group is more than 10 times the national average. While organizations like the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women work to address the crisis of violence at the national level, states must work in tandem with tribal nations to ensure there are resources available and a clear legal path to investigating and prosecuting violent offenders who target Native women, girls, and two-spirit persons.

Donaghy says Savanna’s Act, which was signed into law by Sen. Mary Kathryn “Heidi” Heitkamp in 2020, was created to improve the federal response to missing or murdered Indigenous people, but the bill has been ineffective so far.

“There’s been some oversight and implementation of the steps that should have been completed by now, such as creating a database, creating an advisory committee, and the appointments to that advisory committee. And we know that they’re slowly but surely working on it, but at the same time, this epidemic in our community is so great that we don’t have time to wait,” Donaghy says.

She adds that the body of a friend of hers from high school, who’d been missing for months, was just recovered.

“It’s an issue. A very real issue. Sadly, a lot of us have known or are related to people who have gone missing and are treated as cold cases. … There’s an oversight of the missteps of the implementation of Savanna’s Act. It needs to be funded, it needs to be implemented, and it needs to be localized,” Donaghy says.

Other issues Donaghy points to include the recent change in gaming laws, which has seriously financially impacted gaming programs on the reservations; prisons and jails are overrepresented with Native American men and women, and sometimes children, she says. And there are energy insecurity problems on reservations that can leave people freezing—even dying—in their homes during the winter months.

“But at the same time, if you go 300 miles north to the Bakken, they’re burning off natural gas. We have a whole gambit of issues that we would love to work on, but we don’t have the capacity. We’re a small staff of five. We keep up with as much as possible. We reach out to the tribes on issues that are important. But there’s a whole array of issues that affect our people and our quality of life that we want to protect,” Donaghy says.

NDNV is currently fundraising for the $177,000 they need to cover their operational costs. From supporting nine Native candidates running for seven legislative seats, with six candidates guaranteed to advance to the November election—an unprecedented number of Native American legislative candidates running in the state this year—the grassroots advocacy group also seeks to expand its voter education program and year-round community outreach.

Donaghy says it’s because of support from the Daily Kos community and others that NDNV is in existence.

“Organizing is healing for our communities, and we’re able to do the work ourselves and we’re able to heal through that process,” she says.

NDNV’s goal is to have at least 75% of Native voters turnout in 2022.

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