Native American speakers, as well as the Cross-Cultural Center staff, stressed the importance of voter engagement during Chapman’s Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month kickoff event to a small group of people.
Only eight people attended the Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month kick-off event in Argyros Forum on November 6th. Festivities included crafts, traditional dancing, and politically charged speeches surrounding American Indian voter rights in the United States.
“We were here before anybody,” said Lupe Lopez-Donaghey, a paralegal and American Indian cultural consultant who identifies as Native American.
Donaghey gave the keynote address titled “Culture and Legal Status of American Indians” – a fitting topic, given that the kickoff occurred on the day of midterm elections. The suppression of the Native American vote in North Dakota was a national topic in the run up to the elections.
While there was national outrage over the requirement of “tribal IDs” in North Dakota, Lopez-Donaghey said a lack of voter participation from the Native American community was also a problem.
“There is still a lot of voter apathy,” Lopez-Donaghey said.
Many native people also have obstacles that prevent them from voting, such as the address requirement, said Victoria Gomez, a graduate student in the leadership development program.
“On the reservation, they don’t even have a P.O. box.,” said Gomez, who assists with Heritage Month Programming for the University and helped set up the event.
The voter registration rate for American Indians and Alaskan Natives in the United States is anywhere from five to 14 percentage points lower than any other racial demographic, according to the National Congress of American Indians.
“American Indians did not become citizens until 1924, but in reality didn’t get the right to vote until, like, the 60s. It’s not that many years that we’ve had voting rights,” Lopez-Donaghey said.
Native Americans were banned from voting until 1965, as those on Indian reservations were not considered natural-born citizens, according to the Native American Voting Rights Coalition.
Consequently, Lopez-Donaghey has kick-started the California Native Vote Project.
The California Native Vote Project is an organization that encourages Native Americans to vote and participate in politics.
“How many of you guys have ever heard of [California Native Project] before?” Lopez-Donaghey asked of the audience.
After the silence, she affirmed that nobody in the crowd was aware of the organization.
“We’re pushing for that American Indian vote. It is our right. We now have that right, so let’s move forward with it,” Lopez-Donaghey said.
Throughout her talk, Lopez-Donaghey referenced traditional music or dance from various tribes, including one dance that served as a symbolic healing dance for domestic violence against Native women.
“She dances in a prayer. With Native American women, four out of five will experience violence in their lifetime,” said Lopez-Donaghey
Lopez-Donaghey also addressed other community challenges, such as alcoholism and diabetes.
She blamed these problems on governmental interference, and the adoption of unhealthy customs for the sake of convenience and assimilation.
Lopez-Donaghey argued that colonization and assimilation were imposed on Native American people, which resulted in the stripping of their values and the emergence of adversity.
“These people have suffered through a lot of things in their culture through colonization. I think it’s really important to recognize that as we go forward,” said Gomez.
It is the second year that the Cross-Cultural Center has celebrated Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month. Since 1995, each president has declared November as National American Indian Heritage Month.
“I hope that people want to come and learn more about who they are, but also about who these people are as well. This [event] is specifically for non-native students to come and learn,” Gomez said.
Poignantly, the issued discussed reached few listeners. Several Chapman students even entered only to grab snacks and refreshments before sneaking out.
But nationally, there was good news, as native people surged to the polls en masse: The North Dakota Secretary of State and local officials reported stunningly high levels of voter turnout on the Standing Rock and Turtle Mountain reservations.
Higher levels of Native American voter turnout will increase the likelihood that Native concerns – especially those involving the environment and education – will be heard, Lopez-Donaghey said.