Last year, the nation was focused on voting and election integrity. A dramatic election, during a worldwide pandemic, raised a host of novel issues. We also know from history that civil rights often come under threat during times of crisis. The most vulnerable populations being the first to suffer. For all of these reasons, we at the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) were especially focused on protecting Native voting rights during the 2020 elections. However, fighting for Native enfranchisement and equity is in no way new. Native peoples have always faced obstacles to participating in non-tribal politics. NARF is committed to making sure their voices are heard.

NARF is a 501(c)3, Native-led, legal organization that fights to protect Native American rights, resources, and lifeways through litigation, legal advocacy, and expertise. With fifty years of serving Indian Country and Native peoples, we have a long history of holding governments accountable and working towards that mission.

For example, in some parts of Alaska, the majority of households primarily speak an indigenous language.  The VRA requires language assistance for these voters. Without accurate translations and assistance, the right to vote becomes meaningless. However, it took Alaska Natives and tribes—represented by NARF—repeatedly suing the state to obtain these essential resources for Alaska Native voters. This reluctance to provide language assistance to Native constituents is at odds with the fundamentals of our democratic ideals.

And, for Native communities, systemic obstacles often compound. In North Dakota, inadequate or lacking street addresses on reservations combined with distant DMVs, lack of transportation, and poverty, make it nearly impossible to obtain an ID with a street address. The state’s Native voters were more than twice as likely as non-Natives to lack an ID with a residential address. So, when the state legislature decided to require residential addresses on voter ID, it immediately disenfranchised thousands of eligible voters—most Native. Even after the law was found discriminatory, it was years before the state agreed to provide access to Native voters.

Read the full article about preserving the Native American vote by John E. Echohawk at Charity Navigator.