The Navajo Nation Helped the US Outvote Trump, But What is the US Doing for Tribal Nations?
Despite often being forgotten by American politics, grassroots organizers in the
Navajo Nation played a crucial role in flipping Arizona, a historically red state, to blue, directly contributing to Joe Biden’s win of the 2020 Presidential election.
Thanks to organizations such as Rural Utah Project and their sister
program Rural Arizona Project, many underrepresented rural communities in these states have been encouraged to register to vote and engage in both local and national politics. Their tactics included COVID-19 safe door-to-door visits and a partnership with Google to create plus codes for homes in the Navajo Nation (location codes based on coordinates that can be used as addresses) since many of residents didn’t have addresses and couldn’t mail their ballots. Social media was also a key mechanism to spread election information and proved successful to promote events such as “Ride to the Polls,” an initiative by Protect the Sacred that encouraged people in the Navajo Nation in Arizona to vote together.
All these grassroots efforts contributed to record voter turnout and led to important wins in Congress for Native Americans. According to AP News, “Voters in precincts on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Northeastern Arizona cast nearly 60,000 ballots in the Nov. 3 election, compared with just under 42,500 in 2016.” Increased representation at the polls contributed to electing a record-breaking number of Native Americans to Congress including three Native American women —Deb Haaland (D) from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, Sharice Davids (D) from the Ho-Chunk Nation, and Yvette Herell (R) from the Cherokee Nation in New Mexico.
Since minority groups’ voting efforts played an important role in Biden’s nomination, the president-elect is being pressured to have a diverse cabinet in return. New Mexico’s Democrat congresswoman Deb Haaland is a potential candidate to be the next Secretary of Interior and would be the first Native American to hold this position. The US Department of the Interior manages land sustainability and advocates for tribal nations and island communities, so there is a strong desire from the indigenous communities to appoint a Native American as head of that office.
While many Native American people were mobilized to vote this year because of President Trump’s bigoted rhetoric and failure to handle the pandemic, others were bringing up the more fundamental conversation on whether it is helpful to vote and participate in a political system that was built on genocide and colonialism.
According to the Frontline Medics collective, many indigenous community organizers focus on mutual aid networks for liberation “because of Amerikkka’s negligence of our communities, but also because this is what communities reliant on one another been doing for centuries before and despite the imposition of the structural violence of settler states and its recuperation of our energies, tactics or strategy.”
The desire for proper political representation via voter mobilization, and the desire to be independent of an oppressive settler colonial state via mutual aid networks are both real reactions to the fact that the US government has never had the indigenous population’s best interest at hand.
Historically, genocide, broken land treaties, forced relocation and forced assimilation have plagued indigenous communities. Most recently, the Navajo nation has been one of the hardest hit communities in the COVID-19 pandemic, and has faced voter suppression in the presidential elections. Despite the challenges and injustices, this community still mobilized and contributed to one of the most pivotal election results.
As non-Native American people occupying stolen land, we must be sober about the ways in which the US government regularly neglects and harms these communities, and do better to respect and advocate for them.
Here are some first steps on how to be an ally to Native American communities outside of the election cycle:
Find out what native land you are living in and learn about it.
Regularly donate your time and money to your local indigenous non-profit/emergency fund.
Here’s who you can follow on social media (non-exhaustive list):
If you want to share other ways to be an ally to indigenous communities, we would love to hear from you at email@example.com