The path to civic engagement and political equity for Native Americans has been a long and arduous journey, persisting to this day. As we approach the centennial commemoration of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, or the Snyder Act, on June 2, 2024, we reflect on the historic recognition of Indigenous peoples of the United States as full citizens.

While the Snyder Act granted citizenship to Native Americans and Alaska Natives, exercising the full rights of citizenship faced significant challenges for decades to come. It also came at a great cost, from the forced assimilation of Native children in boarding schools to persistent threats and barriers preventing Native peoples from shaping our own futures.

The irony of citizenship for peoples Indigenous to this land was that it still did not automatically grant Indigenous people the ability to vote, as voting eligibility was, in part, determined by each state. Arizona was one of the last states to allow Native people to vote, requiring people to pass English literacy tests in order to register to vote until the 1970s. These barriers breed and reinforce a profound mistrust in a system that directly impacts our daily lives, hindering our ability to advocate for and safeguard our culture, lifeways, and sovereignty.

A century after Snyder’s passage, states continue to impose restrictions that disenfranchise Native voters, creating obstacles such as limited or no access to polling places on or near Tribal lands, restrictions on mailing addresses that prevent Native people from obtaining mail-in ballots, limited language assistance or translation, and unreliable broadband Internet services. 

At Advance Native Political Leadership, we deeply invest in this process of democracy to ensure that no decisions about us will be made without us. Our theory of change is that when Native peoples and communities have access to national networks, innovative tools for community organizing, strategies for civic and voter engagement, and pathways to leadership, we inherently advance all of our communities’ health and well-being.

We continue to see firsthand the transformative impact that Native leaders have in elected and appointed office. As the country’s first Native American cabinet secretary, U.S Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) has made massive strides to increase the visibility of the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, uncover and address the dark legacy and lasting impact of the federal government’s policy and practice of Indian boarding schools, and protect tribal sovereignty both federally and statewide. The work that Native leaders are doing benefits all of our communities. In an effort led by Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe), who is also a co-founder of Advance Native Political Leadership, Minnesota passed legislation that ensures every student, regardless of income, has access to free breakfast and lunch – something that Lt. Gov. Flanagan struggled to access when she was a child. 

The dissonance experienced by Native communities attempting to engage with a system designed to eliminate us has lasting consequences. Yet, we recognize that without active participation, the current system will continue to disenfranchise, harm, and ignore the contributions of Native peoples. As the original stewards of this land, our representation and voice in the actions that directly affect us is integral to not only the betterment of our communities, but all communities. When we elect leaders who represent all of us, we all win. 

This is why we launched the Native Leadership Institute, the only national training and research institute created by and for Indigenous peoples in the country: to create pathways to leadership at all levels of government and political organizing in the United States. Every year, we recruit, train, and support hundreds of Indigenous leaders nationwide to run for office. Of the more than 520,000 elected offices in this country, only a little more than 330 – or 0.06 percent – are held by Native Americans, Alaska Natives, or Native Hawaiians. Together, we need to elect more than 17,000 Native people to office to reach representational parity based on population alone.

So, how can you get involved?