In February, the Navajo Nation sued San Juan County, New Mexico over its new redistricting plan. San Juan County, which stretches across a large swath of the Navajo reservation, has enough Indigenous voters to be a majority in two voting districts. The Navajo Nation’s lawsuit, however, argues that the county’s redistricting plan packs those voters into a single voting district, diluting the power of Indigenous people at the polls and violating the Voting Rights Act.

For Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC), the stakes couldn’t be higher. Indigenous voters often have different priorities at the polls than their non-Indigenous counterparts, and less voting power means they are less likely to be represented by lawmakers on issues they care about. In particular, Gorman says, redistricting could impact Navajo people’s ability to deal with resource allocations, water quality and access, and land use – environmental issues important to Indigenous people in the area. “Redistricting affects every aspect of our lives,” he said.

Across the US, states are redrawing the borders of congressional and legislative districts based on population counts and changes recorded in the 2020 Census. The new boundaries will apply to federal, state, and local elections for the next ten years and New Mexico is one of several states where Indigenous voters have serious concerns that redistricting plans will limit their ability to protect their interests. Now, tribal leaders and experts say that this once-a-decade redistricting process may become a lost opportunity, resulting in another decade of disenfranchisement and lack of legislative advocacy, impacting everything from land and resource exploitation to protections for water.

“Rather than working on understanding the issues that are important to Native voters, some elected officials would rather suppress the Native vote,” said Keaton Sunchild, political director for Western Native Voice. “We fear that these groups are just getting started.”

Based on the 2020 Census, the state of Montana will gain a congressional seat, giving it two for the first time in decades. Montana’s plan divides the state into an eastern and western district, raising alarms for several Indigenous nations and groups in the state. Two reservations are in the western district, while the other five are in the eastern district. Sunchild, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, says that the newly redistricted map dilutes the voices of Indigenous voters. “It really doesn’t put a lot of emphasis on the Native vote in either district. It makes it easy for candidates to ignore Native voters and Native priorities,” he said.

Read the full article about redistricting for Native communities by Joseph Lee at Grist.