Barack Obama and the Native Vote

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee

Like millions of people all over the world, I’m ecstatic, over-the-moon inspired by Obama’s win. If for no other reason (and all the others too in which we share the same opinion, like abortion for example) than his win is actually a good thing for the people in my community. Yes indeed, the new leadership of Barack Obama in the United States of America is good for Native people, and you can sure as hell bet that a whole lot of us voted for him, and are counting on him to really give a crap about the issues we are facing.

Like right now.

Several times last night, I heard:

“If a Black man can do it, so can we.”
“We need a Native Barack Obama.”
“A man of colour in office is a victory for us all!”

Which were all great things to hear than the usual cutting each other up in stereotypes and ignorance I usually see. To me, this represented an unveiling of a layer of oppression, where you had the Indigenous peoples of this land busting ass so that a fellow marginalized person could clean house with votes within a system none of us created, to make real change that we all sorely need.

Especially if you are still being colonized, I might add.

The First Americans for Obama Campaign was a true attempt at engaging the Native Americans here to work in solidarity with Obama on our common ground issues, and get the Democratic Party to pay a little more attention to the severity of what is going on in our communities. I’ll admit myself that when I first heard about it, I immediately wanted to jump on the bandwagon of actually seeing our people represented in such a public light with the star that is Obama, but now being at the end of the campaign, I can honestly say that it did not do a good enough job of reaching out to where we actually are, which for a high percentage of us is in rural and remote places. In addition to that important factor, I have several friends and family members who although they were Obama supporters, refused to even wear a “First American for Obama” t-shirt, because of the offensive nature of referring to us as “Americans”, which of course we are not.

But in the end, those who would disregard us lost as we all combined forces and pulled together on this one to beat ‘em with their own system, and this was the kind of victory I saw won on my last 5 days being on the reservation in the tumultuous battleground of South Dakota.

I might be Native, but I’m also a Canadian citizen residing in Canada, so I wasn’t actually coming here to vote. I came here because I couldn’t stand to silently watch at home things like our inherent right to choose the number of children within our families being taken away by Measure 11, or all the major campaign parties do a poor job of Native voter engagement in a state with the poorest Native community in the country (Pine Ridge, which also ranks amongst the top ten in the world).

This is not an on-the-other-side-of-the-border issue; this is an issue about my people, who don’t believe in the notion of that border anyways.

I teamed up with the Campaign for Healthy Families in Sioux Falls to lead an Emergency Native American Task Force to beat measure 11, aka the ban on abortion, with it’s bogus so-called “exceptions”. I realized that there weren’t culturally appropriate materials being made this time around, among other culturally relevant information that was lacking across the board, so we at the Native Youth Sexual Health Network made materials ourselves and came down here with arms ready to fight. Only it wasn’t until I got here that I realized how horrific things were in terms of the opposition using our own culture against us in an attempt to win their Draconian measure.

“Wakin ye ja” is a Lakota word that means child, and it literally translates in English to sacred being. This whole cultural campaign with the VOTEYESFORLIFE bullshit pissed me off to a degree that I haven’t been pissed off in a while, because it reminded me of 1492, and how yes, you are converting us to Christianity for our own good, because you know better than us about what our belief system should be like, and will manipulate us with our own culture in order to do that. Bullshit!

Indigenous societies have been practicing methods of abortion and birth control way before any of these medical and clinical procedures, and when colonization arrived, it took away our matriarchy, our healthy sexuality, our traditional medicines, to the point where those are the very key issues in which we as Native nations don’t know where we stand. We’ve lost so much already under government rape and control, and you want to pluck away even further with our bodily rights as Native women?

(Check out the Indigenous women’s pro-choice page at the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Centre if you need any more confirmation of that.) I don’t think so, and guess what, we defeated it and won!

Election day itself was spent driving en masse to mobilize communities that had polling stations some 10, 15, 20 miles from their residence, no federal agents watching, a VOTEYESFORLIFE sticker within 100 metres of the voting station with no uproar on its illegality, and for this one particular community in West Bend, had their polls moved from a chicken coop in 2006 to someone’s garage this year.

Despite all of these frustrations, (which of course included the continuous “mysterious” removal of signs promoting VOTE NO on 11 and the campaign signs several Native women who were running for senate, and some intimidation and coercion tactics they also tried on us) it has all in all been an amazing and moving experience to bring the community together no matter where we are coming from in terms of realities we are suffering through, to exercise our democratic right to vote and see the hope for change in the eyes of people who America has indeed, truly forgotten.

There is no place I would have rather have been during one of the most important US elections of our time and all I have to say now is yes, we of all people need something different.

Maybe it could even include strategies to support us in re-learning and going back to our old ways that weren’t as messed up as the modern world we find ourselves in today, and respecting our sovereignty and self-government!

So Barack Obama, don’t forget about us. You promised, and we’re watching.