Tribal Sovereignty
Today, tribal council meetings are more contentious as tribes administer more programs and more money.Today, tribal council meetings are more contentious
as tribes administer more programs and more money.

Voting Rights & Politics

Politics in Indian Country are local and personal. Yet in these days of urbanization and casinos, politics are becoming more and more important.

Historically, Native Americans have not participated very heavily in the political process. There is only one Native American member of Congress, Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw from Oklahoma. Longtime U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado retired in 2004.

There are 48 Native Americans who have been elected to various state legislatures. That figure is up from 36 a couple of years ago, but well below the proportion of Native American voters in the population.

Perhaps it's not surprising that Indians haven't participated in national politics. Nighthorse Campbell suggests that Indians have a historic hostility toward the U.S. political system. For hundreds of years, the federal government was the enemy.

With two-thirds of Indians living in urban areas, absentee ballots can sway elections back on the reservation.

Click here to see how one tribe is struggling with voting rights in this video.

In addition, it was not until 1924 that Native Americans were granted U.S. citizenship and the right to vote in U.S. elections. That was 54 years after African-American men were allowed to vote, and four years after women received the same right with the 19th Amendment.

Despite the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act, states can set voting procedures. Many still refused to allow Native Americans to vote. New Mexico overtly prohibited Indian voting until 1962.

Also, many Native Americans are suspicious of any effort by the government to "register" them because, throughout their history, registration had led to the taking of land, relocating a community or forcefully removing children to boarding schools.

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