Native Americans Weren't Guaranteed the Right to Vote in Every State Until 1962

Native Americans Weren't Guaranteed the Right to Vote in Every State Until 1962

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Do U.S. citizenship and voting rights go hand and hand? For most of the country’s history, the answer has been no—just look at the example of Native voting rights, which weren’t secured in all states until the 1960s.

Native Americans couldn’t be U.S. citizens when the country ratified its Constitution in 1788, and wouldn’t win the right to be for 136 years. When black Americans won citizenship with the 14th Amendment in 1868, the government specifically interpreted the law so it didn’t apply to Native people.

“I am not yet prepared to pass a sweeping act of naturalization by which all the Indian savages, wild or tame, belonging to a tribal relation, are to become my fellow-citizens and go to the polls and vote with me,” argued Michigan Senator Jacob Howard at the time, according to the Native American Voting Rights Coalition.

Some Native people who didn’t want U.S. citizenship since they were already part of their own sovereign nations. However, these nations still found their land and the lives of their people subject to the whims of a country that would not recognize them as citizens.

The Carlisle Indian School

In 1924, Native people won the right to full citizenship when President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, also known as the Snyder Act. But Coolidge and his Congress didn’t this enact this law out of their own benevolence. Many saw this as a way to break up Native nations and forcibly assimilate them into American society; to, as Carlisle boarding school founder Richard Henry Pratt said in 1892, “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

In any case, Congress didn’t given Native people voting rights at that time either. The Constitution gave states the right to determine voting rights (with the exception of the 15th and 19th Amendments, which many states violated anyway by preventing black people from voting).

There were plenty of white Americans who didn’t want Native people voting in their states. In the late 1930s, “One of the Indians went over to Old Town once to see some official in the city hall about voting,” reported Henry Mitchell, an “Indian Canoe Maker” in Maine. “He said to the Indian, 'We don't want you people over here. You have your own elections over on the island, and if you want to vote, go over there.’”

Native Americans were only able to win the right to vote by fighting for it state by state. The last state to fully guarantee voting rights for Native people was Utah in 1962. Despite these victories, Native people were still prevented from voting with poll taxes, literacy tests and intimidation—the same tactics used against black voters.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped strengthen the voting rights that Native people had won in every state. However, the act is no longer fully intact. In 2013, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder dismantled one of its key provisions, which required that states with a history of racial bias in voting get permission before passing new voting laws. Just before the 2018 midterm elections, North Dakota’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a new voting requirement that may prevent hundreds of Native residents from voting.

American Experience

For many women, the 19th Amendment was only the beginning of a much longer fight.

Three African American women at a polling place, one looking at a book of registered voters on November 5, 1957, in New York City or Newark, New Jersey] / TOH, Library of Congress

This article is part of She Resisted, an interactive experience celebrating the pioneering strategies of the women’s suffrage movement.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on or by any state on account of sex.

Sioux activist, teacher and writer Zitkála-Šá in 1898. Wikimedia/PD

When the 19th Amendment became law on August 26, 1920, 26 million adult female Americans were nominally eligible to vote. But full electoral equality was still decades away for many women of color who counted among that number. The federal suffrage amendment prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, but it did not address other kinds of discrimination that many American women faced: women from marginalized communities were excluded on the basis of gender and race. Native American, Asian American, Latinx and African American suffragists had to fight for their own enfranchisement long after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Only over successive years did each of those groups gain access to the ballot.

In 1920, Native Americans weren’t allowed to be United States citizens, so the federal amendment did not give them the right to vote. The first generation of white suffragists had studied Native communities to learn from a model of government that included women as equal democratic actors. But the suffragists did not advocate for indigenous women. Nonetheless, Native American activists like Zitkála-Šá continued to organize and advocate with white mainstream suffragists. With the passage of the Snyder Act in 1924, American-born Native women gained citizenship. But until as late as 1962, individual states still prevented them from voting on contrived grounds, such as literacy tests, poll taxes and claims that residence on a reservation meant one wasn’t also a resident of that state.

Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee in a newspaper portrait from a 1912 New York Tribune article. Library of Congress

Native-born Asian Americans already had U.S. citizenship in 1920, but first generation Asian Americans did not. Asian American immigrant women were therefore excluded from voting until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 allowed them to gain citizenship more than three decades after the 19th Amendment. Despite being barred from citizenship and from voting, Asian American suffragists such as Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee worked alongside white Native-born women in the years leading up to 1920 Ping-Hua Lee and others advocated within their communities and even marched in suffrage parades.

Labor organizer and writer Louisa Capetillo around 1919, PD

Latinx women contributed to the success of the suffrage movement at both the state and federal levels, particularly with their efforts to reach out to Spanish-speaking women. And in Puerto Rico, suffragists like Luisa Capetillo worked to attain women’s voting rights, which were first given to literate women in 1929 and all Puerto Rican women in 1935. Yet literacy tests remained an effective means of keeping some Hispanic and other women of color from voting long after the federal amendment was passed. It took a 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act, prohibitingdiscrimination against language minority citizens, to expand voting access to women who rely heavily on languages other than English.

Fannie Lou Hamer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegate, at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. Library of Congress

Some African American suffragists in the north were able, with the 19th Amendment, to realize the rewards of their activism, but throughout much of the country the same voter suppression tactics that kept black men from the polls kept black women from voting, too. Literacy tests, poll taxes, voter ID requirements and intimidation and threats and acts of violence were all obstacles. The struggle for suffrage, which began for black women in the early 1800s, continued until activists such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash won the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 200 years later.

After the 19th Amendment, the work to secure the vote for all women has continued. Beyond 1920, diverse women expanded voting access to more Americans, and their project of creating a more equitable society through voting rights persists today.

Episode 3

So far in this podcast, we have explored the history of women's suffrage in New Mexico, as a companion production to The American Experience documentary "The Vote" on PBS. That film is available for streaming on 2020 marks 100 years since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote in the United States. But there was another part of the population that would have to wait decades to earn that same right to participate in the democratic process: Native Americans. Host Megan Kamerick explores this part of the state's history in this episode, including why so many Native Americans were actually skeptical of voting in general.

Gordon Bronitsky, President, Bronitsky and Associates

Cathleen Cahill, Associate Professor of History, Penn State

Maurice Crandall, Assistant Professor, Native American Studies, Dartmouth College

U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland, Democratic Representative from New Mexico

A History Of Native Voting Rights - Native American Voting Rights Coalition


Before colonization, many natives lived in North America and South America. Indigenous peoples' cultures, origins, religions, and languages are vastly diverse. The story of these tribes that survived genocide of Native Americans have mostly been passed through oral stories traditions.

Religious practices among Natives, pre-colonialism range from individual prayers, rituals, and offerings to large intertribal ceremonies. Precontact religion was often closely tied to the land and the environment. [3] These concerns include the omnipresent, invisible universal force, and "the three 'life crises' of birth, puberty, and death," spiritual beings, revelations, human intercessors into the spirit world, and ceremonies that renew communities. [3]

In 1585, an American Indian tribe on the eastern coast of North America made contact with the explorer Richard Grenville. The Native tribesfolk proved hospitable and receptive to Grenville. Yet, when one Native stole a small silver cup from him, Grenville sacked and burned down the entire village in revenge. [4]

In 1607, decades after the interaction between the tribesfolk and Grenville, Captain John Smith established the colony of Jamestown in the middle of the Powhatan confederacy in what is now Virginia. Powhatan, the leader of his tribe, refrained from attacking the colonists as they established their settlement. Despite this, conflicts quickly broke out between the colonists and the Powhatan. [4]

In the winter of 1609 through 1610, the residents of Jamestown had little food or effective shelter as they experienced the Starving Time. The Powhatan tribesfolk integrated and cared for the colonists who deserted Jamestown to live with them, as they were much more prepared for the harsh winter. [4] In the summer, when the governor of Jamestown requested that Powhatan return the runaways, he offered vague comments that the colonists considered rude, but showed no intention to bring them back. In response, the colonists raided a Powhatan village, killing about 15 tribespeople, burning the houses and the corn supply, and kidnapping and murdering a queen and her children. [4] The Powhatans had never seen this magnitude of violence before Jamestown's establishment as the chief wrote in a letter to Captain John Smith:

I have seen two generations of my people die. I know the difference between peace and war better than any man in my country. Why will you take by force what you may have quietly by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war? We can hide our provisions and run into the woods then you will starve for wronging your friends. Why are you jealous of us? We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner, and not so simple as not to know that is it much better to eat good meat, sleep comfortably, live quietly with my wives and children, laugh and be merry with the English, and trade for their copper and hatchets, than to run away from them, and to lie cold in the wood, feed on acorns, roots and such trash, and be so hunted that I can neither eat nor sleep. Take away your guns and swords, the cause of all our jealousy, or you my all die in the same manner.

Christianization and assimilation Edit

Many European missionaries believed that it was their sacred duty and calling from God to convert Native Americans to Christianity. [5] [6] Spaniards practiced Christianization in the New World using Pope Alexander VI's papal bull, Inter caetera. This allowed rulers to "bring under their sway [non-Christian] 'countries and islands' discovered by Columbus, along with 'their residents and inhabitants, and to bring them to the Catholic faith.'" [ citation needed ]

The missionaries developed "praying towns" to create "orderly Christian communities filled with model converts who were living and working under the watchful eye of a priest or pastor". [7] Within these communities, converts to the Christian faith would be placed in a separate area from the remainder of the tribe in order to prevent regression back to their native beliefs. Missionaries such as John Eliot, a Puritan, and Isaac McCoy, a Baptist, led the way in the spread of their beliefs within these types of towns and among the natives. These towns led the way to the future separation of the natives from the remainder of society in Native American reservations.

Criticizing colonialism Edit

Native peoples have been active in educating nonnatives on the cultures, histories, and experiences of their tribes since the beginning of colonization. Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow Nation in Montana and Alfred Kiyana of the Mesquakie Settlement in Iowa spoke to historians, anthropologists, and journalists through translators to criticize idea of "American progress" and to express pride and faith in the identities of their own cultures. [8]

Charles Eastman, a Mdewakanton and Wahpeton Sioux and physician, published books and articles in English for American people to show that it is not savage that Native people celebrate what Mourning Dove called the "ancient way". In 1902, Gertrude Bonnin told the Atlantic Monthly that the traditions of her tribe, the Yankton Dakota Sioux, were not only equal to European Americans, but that their values were superior. [8]

Involvement with United States politics Edit

In 1903, Charles Eastman, a Santee Dakotan and Native representative, was requested by Theodore Roosevelt to help Sioux people choose English names in order to protect their lands from being taken. Lands registered with the birth and natural names of Natives were often lost due to confusion the United States government employees had with filling paperwork. [9]

The United States government has a strong history making deals with Native Americans and not keeping them. Thomas Bishop, a Snohomish man, recorded his elders' memories of U.S. promises and compared them to the actual texts in treaties. He published a piece based on these discrepancies in 1915 titled "An Appeal to the Government to Fulfill Sacred Promises Made 61 Years Ago." Following this, he and other citizens of Pacific Northwest tribes organized all the Tulalip agency reservations and several off-reservation communities into the Northwestern Federation of American Indians with the goal of redeeming promises made in treaties. [8]

Many Native Americans aided the United States in World War II. Veterans came back from serving, only to find that the US government and American people would not recognize their contributions to the war effort. This encouraged Natives to begin moving towards activism that was more focused on tribal sovereignty and self-determination. [8]

Advocacy groups, such as the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which was founded in 1944, began representing tribal interests to the public and to Congress. The NCAI's founding members came from a wide variety of professionals including veterans, anthropologists, lawyers, elected state and federal officials, and a professional baseball player, George Eastman, and half of them had previously served on Indian Rights Association-chartered tribal councils. At least four of them were also members of the Society of American Indians. [8]

In 1961, the National Indian Youth Council formed in pursuit of "a greater Indian America". The organization members were young and had grown out of a summer program that brought students from all around the US to Boulder, Colorado and introduced to the Southwest Regional Indian Youth Council so that they could learn about the Native state of affairs. The organizations' members, people such as Clyde Warrior, Melvin Thom, Vine Deloria Jr., and Hank Adams, rejected beliefs that Natives were unable to help themselves or that they needed to adopt American society as their own. They were seen as an upset to norms in the Native community, as they were much younger than other recognized leaders of Native civil rights movements. They emphasized direct protest action and pursued federal recognition of several then-unrecognized Native nations. They also organized the first conference where unrecognized Native community members, tribal chiefs, and US chairpersons shared a public stage. [8]

Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 Edit

With the law of the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) at the time, also called the Indian Bill of Rights, the indigenous people were guaranteed many civil rights they had been fighting for. [10] The ICRA supports the following: [11]

  • Right to free speech, press, and assembly
  • Protection from unreasonable invasion of homes
  • Right of criminal defendant to a speedy trial, to be advised of the charges, and to confront any adverse witnesses
  • Right to hire an attorney in a criminal case
  • Protection against self incrimination
  • Protection against cruel and unusual punishment, excessive bail, incarceration of more than one year and/or a fine in excess of $5,000 for any one offense
  • Protection from double jeopardy or ex post facto laws
  • Right to a jury trial for offenses punishable by imprisonment
  • Equal law protection due process

Other civil rights such as sovereignty, hunting and fishing, and voting are still issues facing Native people today.

There has been increased dialogue around the controversy of using Native American symbols such as for school or team mascots. Concerns are that the use of the symbols distort Native American history and culture and often stereotype in offensive ways. [12] In 2020, the Washington Redskins retired their name and logo (which depicted a side profile of a Native American man), following public outcry that the team's branding was offensive to Native Americans. [13] In a statement, the Navajo Nation said the decision marked a "historic day for all Indigenous peoples around the world as the NFL Washington-based team officially announced the retirement of the racist and disparaging 'Redskins' team name and logo". [13]

There has been significant controversy, including a number of protests, around oil pipelines that run near tribal territory, particularly the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline. Many Native American tribes and people believe the pipelines threaten their water supply, [14] could damage cultural and religious sites, [15] and violate treaties guaranteeing "undisturbed use and occupation" of tribal land. [16]

After years of lack of schooling for Natives Americans, the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) was created to give equal education to Natives in 1969. [17]

Native American advocates went to the United Nations to seek laws that protected the rights of Native people to own their own media, and for the prosecution of those who persecuted their journalists. [ citation needed ]

Religion after Euro-American contact Edit

Over the last five centuries, "Christianity has made enormous inroads into Native society." [18] Many religious Native Americans today voluntarily practice Christianity, both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, or even both altogether. [18] There was both voluntary and forced conversion however, not all tribes embraced Christianity, nor did all members of tribes.

"Euro-American contact and interactions contributed much to Indian marginality and the disruption and destruction of traditional customs and even the aboriginal use of psychoactive substances. This process was noted in the 1976 Final Report to the American Indian Policy Review Commission, Task Force Eleven: Alcohol and Drug Abuse. [19]

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978. It allowed freedom of religion except for some restrictions on use of ceremonial items as the eagle feathers or bones (a protected species) or peyote (considered a restricted drug by the federal government) [20] however, other laws provide for ceremonial use of these by Native American religious practitioners.

One example of Christianity's influence on Native American religion is the prominence of the figure of Jesus Christ in peyote ceremonies of the Native American Church, [21] which is a syncretic religion.

Many indigenous religions arose in response to colonization. These include the Longhouse Religion, which arose at the end of the 18th century, and the Ghost Dance, Four Mothers Society, Indian Shaker Church, Kuksu religion, and others in the 19th century.

Suppression during the Progressive Era Edit

During the Progressive Era from the 1890s to the 1920s, a "quasi-theocracy" reigned in what federal policymakers called "Indian Country" they worked hand-in-hand with churches to impose Christianity upon Native Americans "as part of the government's civilizing project". [22] Keeping in the vein of the colonialists before them, Progressive-Era policymakers found no need to separate religious endeavors concerning Native Americans from Native political policy. [23] The government provided various religious groups with funds to accomplish Native American conversion. It was during this time that the government "discouraged or imposed bans on many forms of traditional religious practices, including the Sun Dance, use of peyote in ceremonial settings and observance of potlatch rituals." [22] The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), or the "Indian Office", as it was then called, played a role in the Christianization of Native Americans. Their boarding schools, often staffed by missionaries, removed Native children from the tribe and away from the influence of their cultures. [22]

In order to pacify Christians, "some tribal religious practitioners modified elements of their traditional practices". [24] In the case of the Sun Dance, "a ceremony of renewal and spiritual reaffirmation", some tribes "omit[ted] the element of self-sacrifice (many participants observed the ritual of skin piercing), reduced the number of days for the ceremony from eight to two and otherwise emphasized the ceremony's social, rather than religious, features". [24] In the past, tribes have also moved religious days to coincide with national U.S. holidays.

Until 1935, Native American people could be fined and sent to prison for practicing certain traditional religious beliefs. [25]

Contemporary Native American religious issues Edit

Established in 1918, the Native American Church "emphasiz[ed] the importance of monogamy, sobriety, and hard work". [26] Today, it serves as an intertribal, multilingual network. The Native American Church has had a long struggle with the government of America due to their ancient and deeply spiritual religious practice using peyote. This a psychoactive substance is found on a cactus and is used for healing practices and in religious ceremonies. [27] The use of this substance is highly debated due to the outbreaks of drug use among Americans today. Leaders of the Native American Church argue that the use of peyote allows for a direct connection with gods and that peyote is not taken simply for its psychoactive effects. It is taken in the manner that one might take the sacraments of Christianity. [28] "Peyote is not habit forming and 'in the controlled ambiance of a peyote meeting it is in no way harmful.'" Rather it is considered a unifying influence on the Native American life because it provides the "basis for Indian friendships, rituals, social gatherings, travel, marriage, and more. It has been a source of healing and means of expression for a troubled people. And it has resulted in one of the strongest pan-Indian movements among American Indians". [29]

For years the government has been debating the subject of peyote use. In 1949 peyote use was condemned by the American Medical Association because findings in their study led them to believe that it was habit-forming drug. Congress then attempted to regulate the use of peyote in 1963 with little success, but under the Drug Abuse Control Act in 1965 it was on the list of forbidden psychedelic drugs. Under this act it did not place this on Native American peyotists who were using it for religious practice, though some suffered still under the hands of the state governments for having it in their possession. State laws differed from the United States government standards with states outlawing the use of peyote. [30] "By 1970, of the seventeen states that still had anti-peyote laws, only five did not provide exemptions for Indians to use peyote ritually." These were amended under the pressure from the Native American Church member if the members showed proof that they were at least 25 percent Native American. The states laws were generally similar to those of South Dakota, which says that "when used as a sacrament in services of the Native American Church in a natural state which is unaltered except for drying or curing or slicing", peyote use is permitted. [31] In 1978 the American Indian Religious Freedom Act there was mention of protection for peyote users, but this did not change the fact that they could still be charged. Because it is an "established religion of many centuries' history. not a 20th century cult nor a fad subject to extinction at a whim", [32] it continues to be somewhat protected under the law.

All indigenous tribes are under the United States just as other major groups. However, unlike other minority groups who are immigrants to the United States, Native Americans are indigenous to American land and have therefore earned sovereignty. [33] It is difficult to describe Native American government in a definite manner due to the fact that there are many different Native tribes with different forms of governance. In January 2016 there were *566 federally recognized Native American tribes. [33] During the colonial period, Native American sovereignty was upheld by the negotiation of treaties between British proprietors and Native American tribes. Treaties are rules between the tribe and government. The treaties were made with the agreement that the tribes had equal sovereignty as the sovereignty of the colonial governments. The treaties ended in 1871 with the Indian Appropriations, which changed recognition of the tribes to "domestic dependent nations" rather than independent nations.

Although Native Americans lost the battle for their lands, the US government eventually conceded hunting and fishing rights both within the reservations and on old tribal land that had been sold to and settled. The reserved rights doctrine allowed for tribes to hunt and fish, along with any other rights, as long as they were not specifically denied in a treaty. This angered hunters and fishers who had restrictions placed on them by the government and they protested against the Natives' right to fish and hunt off of reservations.

As the United States continued to colonize more of the continent that they could, they began making treaties with tribes, so that they could have reservations of land. One particular treaty with the Yakama in the Northwest guarantees that the tribe has the rights to "taking fish at all usual and accustomed places in common with the citizens of the Territory". [34] However, in the 1890s, Lineas and Audubon Winans operated a state-licensed fishing mill in Celilo Falls, an important place for fishing to not only the Yakama, but also the Umatilla and the Nez Perce. The Winans decided to develop a fish wheel to catch salmon by the tons, which would deplete the river of fish for the Natives very quickly. In addition, the Winans purchased land that made it impossible for Native people to approach the river at all. The Yakama took this case to the Supreme Court in United States v. Winans (1905) and earned their rights back to fish and to have treaties interpreted by the United States as the members of tribes would have interpreted them at the time. [35]

State agencies pointed out that conservation efforts were possibly compromised by the Native Americans' habits however the Supreme Court upheld the privilege with certain cases, such as Antoine v. Washington (1975), even going so far as to appropriate for Native Americans the right to hunt and fish on all of their old grounds whether or not they were currently privately owned, and to prevent private owners from erecting obstacles to exercising this right. The largest amount of opposition and resentment towards Native Americans' fishing and hunting rights stems from the Pacific Northwest. [36]

In 1988, the United States government passed a federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which provides the legislative basis for protecting Native lands for their community health and economic growth. [8]

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. government attempted to control the travel of Native Americans off Native reservations. Since Native Americans did not obtain U.S. citizenship until 1924, they were considered wards of the state and were denied various basic rights, including the right to travel. [37] The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) discouraged off-reservation activities, including the right to hunt, fish, or visit other tribes. As a result, the BIA instituted a "pass system" designed to control movement of the Natives. This system required Natives living on reservations to obtain a pass from a Native agent before they could leave the reservation. [38] In addition, agents were often ordered to limit the number of passes they issued for off-reservation travel. The reasons cited for this limitation were that Natives with passes often overstayed the time limits imposed, and many times Natives left without requesting passes. When this occurred, the military was frequently called to force the Natives to return their reservations. For example, in April 1863, Superintendent J. W. Perit Huntington forced 500 Native Americans to return from the Willamette Valley after they had violated the pass system, and estimated that up to 300 Natives were still in the area without US authorization. [39]

While attempting to implement this pass system, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) received numerous complaints regarding Natives who traveled without permission. Many complained that Native Americans were killing game merely for the sport and were taking the hides. Other settlers complained that Natives overstayed their visits at neighboring reservations while neglecting their farming duties at home. For example, in December 1893, Governor John E. Osborne of Wyoming wrote a letter to the BIA protesting that Natives from Fort Hall, Lemhi, Wind River, and Crow Reservations were leaving illegally. In response, the commissioner sent a note to all Native agents stating that Natives who disobeyed the pass system would be arrested and punished by state officials. [40] Additional rules were also implemented at this time. For example, the Native agents were now required to notify other reservations of the departure time of Natives, names of Natives, and the route they intended to follow. [41]

In addition to these concerns, many settlers were unhappy with the travel of Native Americans on the railroads. For example, the Central Pacific Railroad in Nevada had granted Natives the privilege of riding on the roof and flatbeds of rail cars without tickets, in exchange for the right-of-way through their reservations. [42] Other railroad lines, including the Carson and the Colorado allowed free railroad travel to the Natives. Paiute Natives, for example, frequently rode the trains to their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. "Paiutes would pack up their gathering baskets and hop on the rails, take off a day or two to gather seeds, and bring their harvest back home again, on the car roofs. Men and women used free passes to travel into town or to ranches farther in the hinterlands for jobs." [43] Angry Native agents, who wanted the Paiutes to stay under their jurisdiction, wrote letters urging the BIA to stop this free travel. According to one Native agent, "The injurious effects of this freedom from restraint, and continual change of place, on the Indian, can not be overestimated." [43]

The loss of the right to free movement across the country was difficult for Native Americans, especially since many tribes traditionally traveled to hunt, fish, and visit other tribes. The passage of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 granted United States citizenship to all Natives born in America. As a result, Native Americans were finally granted free travel in the United States. At the present time, Native Americans who live on reservations are free to travel as they wish.

Beginning in the 18th century and with the creation of the Constitution, there was a struggle to define the relationship between Native tribes and the United States, and the terms of citizenship for tribe members. For example, in the determination of a state's number of House Representatives, Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution states that "Indians not taxed" are not to be included. [44] However, the Constitution also stated that Congress has the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes" (Article I, Section 8).

In 1817, the Cherokee became the first Native Americans recognized as U.S. citizens. Under Article 8 of the 1817 Cherokee treaty, "Upwards of 300 Cherokees (Heads of Families) in the honest simplicity of their souls, made and election to become American citizens." [45] [46] In 1831, however, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, one of the three Marshall Trilogy cases, helped define the limits of tribal sovereignty. The Cherokee nation was determined to be a domestic dependent nation, a relationship that "resembles that of a ward to a guardian". [47] This definition meant that Native people did not have a right to vote. Thus, Native Americans' relationship to the U.S. government continued to be similar to that of people in an occupied land under the control of a foreign power. [48] Further clarification was made in 1856 when Attorney General Caleb Cushing stated, "Indians are the subjects of the United States, and therefore are not, in mere right of home-birth, citizens of the United States. [49] [48]

After the passage of the first Civil Rights Act in 1866, and adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, the terms and limits of Native citizenship were further confirmed. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 states, "That all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States". [50] Some officials were not prepared for Natives to become citizens and resisted calls for Native suffrage. During Senate floor debates regarding the Fourteenth Amendment, Senator Jacob Howard of Michigan commented, "I am not yet prepared to pass a sweeping act of naturalization by which all the Indian savages, wild or tame, belonging to a tribal relation, are to become my fellow-citizens and go to the polls and vote with me…". [51] [50] This sentiment was echoed by James Rood Doolittle of Wisconsin, who argued that, "there is a large mass of the Indian population who are clearly subject to the jurisdiction of the United States who ought not to be included as citizens of the United States…the word 'citizen,' if applied to them, would bring in all the Digger Indians of California". [52] Doolittle was concerned that the proposed amendment would, ". declare the Utes, the Tabahuaches, all those wild Natives to be citizens of the United States, the Great Republic of the world, whose citizenship should be a title as proud as that of king, and whose danger is that you may degrade that citizenship." [52] [50] Because of their substantial numbers at the time, Native Americans would be able to overwhelm the power of the white vote in several states. [50] [52]

While the Civil Rights Act and Fourteenth Amendment served to prevent or limit citizenship for Native Americans, there were special considerations that granted citizenship to some individuals or groups, which in turn gave them the right to vote. For example, the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie created the possibility for the Lakota people to access the right to vote. Article 6 of the treaty stated that Natives could gain citizenship by "receiving a patent for land under the foregoing provisions… and be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of such citizens, and shall, at the same time retain all [their] rights to benefits accruing to Indians under this treaty". [53] The advantage of this was that the Natives could become citizens yet still maintain their status and rights as Natives. [53]

Even for signatory Native Nations to the Fort Laramie Treaty, however, it was made clear that though some would become citizens, it did not mean that they all would gain the right to vote. In 1884, when John Elk, a Native who lived in Omaha, Nebraska, attempted to register in local elections, he was refused a ballot. When he took the case to Supreme Court and through the Elk v. Wilkins trial, he was ruled against under the circumstances that Natives were not protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. [54] The Dawes Act in 1887 continued to pave the pathway for Native citizenship in that members of certain Native American tribes who accepted an allotment of land was considered a citizen. [54] The goal was for Natives to, through assimilation, "adopt the habits of civilized life". [55] This movement certainly convinced a lot of Natives to gain citizenship. This is seen through President Theodore Roosevelt's statement on the allotment policy in which he reported that by 1901, 60,000 Natives had already become citizens of the United States. [56] [54]

Piece by piece, more acts were created that added Natives to the citizenship rolls. [54] When the Native Territory (what is now Oklahoma) was abolished in 1907, all Natives who lived in that territory were made citizens through the Oklahoma Enabling Act. [54]

Furthermore, after World War I, any Native who had fought with honorable discharge was also considered a citizen through the Act of November 6, 1919. [57] As Native Vote states, "The underlying assumption of this act was that these particular Indians had demonstrated that they had become part of the larger Anglo culture and were no longer wholly Indian". [57]

By the early 1920s, Congress was considering a bill to make the remainder of Native Americans citizens in their aim to have them "adopt Anglo culture". [57] This finally was stated with the Indian Citizenship Act which was created on June 2, 1924. This act showed progress in that Natives would not have to give up being a Native to be a citizen of the United States. This included being an enrolled member of a tribe, living on a federally recognized reservation, or practicing his or her culture. [57] However, this did not create the right to vote automatically.

There remained instances in many states that still prevented Natives from voting, even though they were citizens of the United States. For example, the attorney general of Colorado in 1936 declared that Natives could not vote because they were not citizens of the state. [58] [59] Similarly, states found ways around voting in other ways. Because the Fifteenth Amendment 1870 barred states from limiting voting on account of race, states found other ways – residency: claiming that Native Americans were not residents of the state if they resided on reservations, self-termination: one must first abandon their tribal ties in order to vote, taxation: Natives who do not need to pay taxes cannot vote, guardianship: the claim that Native Americans were incompetent and "wards of the state", and on the lack of ability to read English. [60]

With World War II and the need for more soldiers through the draft, Congress reaffirmed Native people's citizenship with the Nationality Act of 1940. [61] However, when some 25,000 veterans returned home after the war, they realized that even though they had put their lives on the line for their country, they were still not allowed to vote. [61]

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act (VRA) put an end to individual states' claims on whether or not Natives were allowed to vote through a federal law. Section 2 of the VRA states that, "No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure, shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color". [62] Further sections describe the measures taken if violations to this act are discovered.

However, efforts by states and municipalities to disenfranchise Native Americans are ongoing, such that there have been about 74 cases brought by or on behalf of Natives under the VRA or the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment since 1965. [63] These in the most part have proved to be successful to upholding the rights of Native Americans as citizens of the United States. Most of these cases are centered on states that have large reservations, or Native populations, such as New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma.

One of the major issues surrounding land ownership rights of the Native American Nations is the purposes for which they are and are not allowed to use their land.

A typical example of the struggle faced involved the Seneca Nation of New York State. On April 18, 2007, the Seneca Nation laid claim to a stretch of Interstate 90 that crosses the Cattaraugus Reservation by revoking the 1954 agreement that granted the Interstate Highway System and New York State Thruway Authority permission to build the highway through the territory. The move was a direct shot at New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's attempts to collect taxes on Seneca territory. [64] The Senecas had previously made the same claim in a lawsuit which they lost because of the state's assertion of sovereign immunity. [65] In Magistrate Heckman's Report and Recommendation it was noted that the State of New York asserted its immunity from suit against both counts of the complaint (one count was the challenge regarding the state's acquisition of Grand Island and other smaller islands in the Niagara River and another count challenging the thruway easement). The United States was permitted to intervene on behalf of the Seneca Nation and the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians. The United States was then directed to file an amended complaint that "clearly states the relief sought by the United States in this action". In this amended complaint the United States did not seek any relief on behalf of the Seneca Nation relative to the thruway easement. By not seeking such relief in its amended complaint the United States of America permitted the action relative to the thruway easement to be subject to dismissal based on New York's immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. [66] On May 4, the Seneca Nation threatened to do the same with Interstate 86. [67]

Latest Op-Eds

Counties that hosted Trump rallies in 2016 saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes. And Rep. Omar herself has been threatened.

It is all too easy to forget that the right to vote has not been a franchise for everyone since creation of the U.S. Constitution. African Americans were identified as three-fifths of a person at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. It was not until 1870 and the passage of the 15th Amendment that African Americans were given the right to vote. And it was only in 1920 that women were given the right to vote in the 19th Amendment of the Constitution. Native American people only won citizenship in 1924. Native Americans weren’t guaranteed the right to vote in every state until 1962. And due to threats of violence and barriers to voter registration and voting, African American voting in many states was limited until after 1965.

New voter suppression rules and laws take us back to the bad, old days. We take the right to vote for granted at our own peril.

Nicholas A. Fischer is the former superintendent of New London Public Schools. He lives in New London.

With 1 Of Their Own In The Statehouse, Native Americans In California Win New Rights

Last year, at the future site of the California Indian Heritage Center in Sacramento, Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, with Assemblyman James Ramos, formally apologized to tribal leaders across the state for the violence, mistreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Americans throughout California history. Rich Pedroncelli/AP hide caption

Last year, at the future site of the California Indian Heritage Center in Sacramento, Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, with Assemblyman James Ramos, formally apologized to tribal leaders across the state for the violence, mistreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Americans throughout California history.

James Ramos, the first member of a California Native American tribe to serve in the state legislature, authored a trio of new laws bolstering the rights of Native Americans in the state.

The measures, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, will go into effect on Jan. 1. One such law will make it easier for tribes in the state to reclaim sacred artifacts and the remains of their ancestors that have been held by museums and other institutions for decades.

"When you look at cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, there's no federally recognized tribe there but yet we know that there's ancestral remains of Indian people in those areas," Ramos, a Democrat, said in an interview with All Things Considered on Wednesday.

"When tribal elders are in disagreement with museum directors over what should be repatriated back to the Californian people, up until this point, all of the weight of that knowledge lies with the museum director. So this bill now strengthens the tribal elders, their voice, to make sure that they have the last say."

In June, a state audit of three campuses within the University of California system found that the universities held close to 500,000 artifacts and remains that had yet to be returned to the respective tribes, a requirement guaranteed under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

"Those are the remains that we need to get back into the hands of the proper people, the proper tribes to be able to do a proper re-burial so then we can start to move forward with the healing," Ramos said.

The assembly member, who's from the Serrano/Cahuilla tribe and lives on the San Manuel Reservation in San Bernardino County, has gone through the tedious repatriation process and spoke about what it took to get back a medicine basketry mortar from a museum in Chicago.

"It took a lot of resources," he said, but many tribes throughout the country "don't have the wherewithal, the resources to be able to provide those resources and those documents that are there."

Ramos' second bill requires the secretary of state to assemble a task force to come up with recommendations on how to increase voter participation among indigenous groups in the state — including ways to recruit Native American poll workers and to improve the accessibility of voter information like registration and election materials.

Native Americans, whose voting rights weren't recognized by every state until 1962, have been dogged by decades of voter disenfranchisement.

Voting Rights for African Americans

A terrible and bloody Civil War freed enslaved Americans. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1868) granted African Americans the rights of citizenship. However, this did not always translate into the ability to vote. Black voters were systematically turned away from state polling places. To combat this problem, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. It says:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Yet states still found ways to circumvent the Constitution and prevent blacks from voting. Poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation all turned African Americans away from the polls. Until the Supreme Court struck it down in 1915, many states used the "grandfather clause " to keep descendents of slaves out of elections. The clause said you could not vote unless your grandfather had voted -- an impossibility for most people whose ancestors were slaves.

This unfair treatment was debated on the street, in the Congress and in the press. A full fifty years after the Fifteenth Amendment passed, black Americans still found it difficult to vote, especially in the South." What a Colored Man Should Do to Vote", lists many of the barriers African American voters faced.

The fight for African American suffrage raged on for decades. In the 1930s one Georgia man described the situation this way: "Do you know I've never voted in my life, never been able to exercise my right as a citizen because of the poll tax? . I can't pay a poll tax, can't have a voice in my own government."

Many brave and impassioned Americans protested, marched, were arrested and even died working toward voting equality. In 1963 and 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brought hundreds of black people to the courthouse in Selma, Alabama to register. When they were turned away, Dr. King organized and led protests that finally turned the tide of American political opinion. In 1964 the Twenty-fourth Amendment prohibited the use of poll taxes. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act directed the Attorney General to enforce the right to vote for African Americans.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act created a significant change in the status of African Americans throughout the South. The Voting Rights Act prohibited the states from using literacy tests and other methods of excluding African Americans from voting. Prior to this, only an estimated twenty-three percent of voting-age blacks were registered nationally, but by 1969 the number had jumped to sixty-one percent.

Voter Fraud, Voter Suppression, and Other Election Crimes

Learn where to report voter fraud and voting rights violations that you witness or suspect.

What are federal election crimes?

Federal election crimes fall into three broad categories:

Campaign finance crimes, such as when candidates accept funds that violate the amounts or donors permitted under the law

Civil rights violations, involving voter intimidation, coercion, threats, and other tactics to suppress a person&rsquos ability to vote

Voter fraud and voter registration fraud, such as when someone illegally casts a vote in the name of a dead person or someone who&rsquos moved

Many states have strengthened their voter ID requirements to try to stop voter fraud.

Is it illegal for someone to ask me who I voted for? Is it illegal for me to tell?

You have the right to cast your vote in private. It&rsquos up to you whether you want to share your choices with others.

There&rsquos no law preventing someone from asking you who you voted for.

How do I report voter fraud or voter suppression?

If you suspect voter fraud, report it to your state or territorial election office. You can also report it to:

The Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division

If you witness or suspect voter intimidation or suppression, there are three ways you can report it:

Contact the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice

The Rise of the Native American Electorate

Delilah Friedler

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a Native American–led rally against the Dakota Access pipeline in September 2016. Jim Watson/Getty

At the Native American Presidential Forum last Monday morning, Sen. Elizabeth Warren made headlines by finally apologizing for claiming Cherokee heritage. “I know that I have made mistakes,” she said onstage before a crowd of indigenous leaders and voters. “I am sorry for harm I have caused.”

Though the apology received mixed reviews, with some Cherokees saying it did not remedy the harm caused, the statement, and the forum itself, which was held in Sioux City, Iowa, signals something important about this presidential election: Candidates are finally courting Native voters.

Indigenous people in the United States did not have the right to vote until they were made citizens in 1924, decades after being excluded from the 14th Amendment, which promised citizenship to “all persons” born on US soil. Indigenous voting rights weren’t guaranteed in all 50 states until 1962, when Utah became the last state to grant suffrage to Natives living on reservations.

Even today, there are insidious barriers that keep Natives from voting. As my colleague Tim Murphy reported last year, many who live on Indian reservations have to travel great distances to reach polling places. Mail service is limited. And many Natives on reservations lack a residential address—something Republicans in North Dakota took advantage of in 2013 when they tightened their voter ID restrictions after Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won a Senate seat, thanks, in part, to Native voters.

Indigenous groups, including Four Directions and the Native American Rights Fund (both of which co-sponsored the presidential forum) have used litigation to work toward equal access at the ballot box. In 2004, Four Directions negotiated with county officials in South Dakota to create satellite voting offices near reservations, allowing more Natives to vote early. They later won a lawsuit to expand the early voting period on two Lakota reservations, whose residents had fewer days to vote than the rest of the state population. Through similar lawsuits, the group won satellite voting offices on reservations in Montana in 2013, and in Nevada in 2016. Four Directions has now turned its sights on Arizona, while continuing to organize on reservations in other states to get voters out to the polls.

As a result of these efforts, Native are becoming an increasingly influential voting bloc. OJ Semans Sr., co-executive director of Four Directions and member of the Rosebud Sioux, says that some areas where they’ve expanded access, like South Dakota reservations, have seen Native voter turnout double. Similarly, a Claremont Graduate University study on Nevada reservations found a jump in voter turnout after the state opened satellite offices in 2016. Despite North Dakota’s new voter ID laws, the state’s Native turnout surged in 2018.

Natives are now winning more representation in states like Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Alaska, which each have a population that is at least 10 percent indigenous. In 2018, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids became the first two Native women ever elected to Congress.

The US indigenous population is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the general population, meaning that as roadblocks to their voting rights continue to be dismantled, their role in elections will likely expand. Natives are becoming a “significant demographic” in key presidential battleground states, says Julian Brave NoiseCat, a journalist who belongs to the Secwepemc and St’at’imc Nations. “If you’re hoping to win Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, or Minnesota, the Native vote is not inconsequential.”

The indigenous-led movements at Standing Rock, Bears Ears, and Mauna Kea have also raised national awareness about Native issues and the political power of Native organizing.

“We are seeing a generational and historic shift in the power and representation of Native people in national politics,” says NoiseCat. “The indicator of our success so far has been the election of Representatives Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids. But the trends underlying that are broader and more durable than just the election of those two.”

Democratic candidates are apparently taking notice of these trends: Ten of them, including frontrunners like Sen. Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Kamala Harris, turned up in Iowa to attend the forum last week, where they were addressed by a panel of tribal leaders and Native youth. Treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, and federal program funding were three of the most discussed issues.

In the process of securing the lands that became the United States, the federal government ratified hundreds of treaties with Native tribes, many of which are still legally binding. Yet the terms of those treaties—from promising large swaths of land to providing services like education, health care, and housing—have often been outright ignored. Funding for federal agencies that fulfill treaty obligations, like the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Education, is often on the chopping block. Many such services went unfunded during the December government shutdown.

For some, Warren was a standout at the forum. “She demonstrated a level of mastery of a complicated set of issues that are not mastered by most folks,” says NoiseCat, who praised the senator for her ability to articulate specific plans and policies. Meanwhile, Sanders took the stage to a standing ovation, demonstrating his continued popularity with Native voters: He was early in vocalizing his opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline, and he worked with an indigenous advisor during his 2016 bid for the Democratic nomination.

Both Warren and Sanders, as well as fellow Democratic candidates Julián Castro and Marianne Williamson, released substantial pro-indigenous platforms ahead of the forum, focusing on policies like expanding tribal sovereignty and funding Native programs more consistently.

Given their history of betrayal by the US government, indigenous nations aren’t quick to trust that the talk they hear from politicians will turn to action. As Simon Moya-Smith, an Oglala Lakota and Chicano journalist, stated in a poignant op-ed, “Candidates are courting the Native vote because of the stakes in the primary race and in the general election, not necessarily because of a genuine interest.”

But Karen Diver, who is Lake Superior Chippewa and served as Native American Affairs adviser to President Obama, thinks there’s real potential for change. “During the Obama administration we saw what was possible when tribes actually had an ally in the White House,” she says. “The presidency sets the tone for how federal agencies interact with tribes.”

She thinks it’s important that candidates are now representing Native issues in their platforms. “If the candidate doesn’t care, you continue to be invisible,” she says. “Not seeing themselves as invisible anymore could motivate Native voters to come out and recognize their power.” And that could make a big difference in 2020.

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Removing Native Americans from their Land

In 1786, the United States established its first Native American reservation and approached each tribe as an independent nation. This policy remained intact for more than one hundred years. But as President James Monroe noted in his second inaugural address in 1821, treating Native Americans this way "flattered their pride, retarded their improvement, and in many instances paved the way to their destruction."

In addition, Monroe observed that America's westward growth "has constantly driven them back, with almost the total sacrifice of the lands which they have been compelled to abandon. They have claims on the magnanimity and . . . on the justice of this nation which we must all feel." Despite Monroe's concern for the plight of Native Americans, his administration successfully removed them from states north of the Ohio River.

President Andrew Jackson offered similar rhetoric in his first inaugural address in 1829, when he emphasized his desire "to observe toward the Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to give that humane and considerate attention to their rights and their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government and the feelings of our people." Yet, only fourteen months later, Jackson prompted Congress to pass the Removal Act, a bill that forced Native Americans to leave the United States and settle in the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.

Many Cherokee tribes banded together as an independent nation, and challenged this legislation in U.S. courts. In 1832, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokees, but some tribes still signed treaties giving the federal government the legal authority to "assist" them in their move to the Indian Territory.

In 1838, as the deadline for removal approached, thousands of federal soldiers and Georgia volunteers entered the territory and forcibly relocated the Cherokees, some hunting, imprisoning, assaulting, and murdering Cherokees during the process. Cherokees who survived the onslaught were forced on a 1,000-mile march to the established Indian Territory with few provisions. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on this "Trail of Tears."

An audio recording of a Native American song commemorating this tragedy is available in the Library's online collections. A description of how some Cherokees settled in West Virginia can be heard in the audio recording Plateau Region as Unofficial Refuge for Cherokee.

The expansion of the United States that encroached upon Native American lands occurred faster than many policymakers had predicted, with events such as the Mexican-American War in 1848 placing new territories and tribes under federal jurisdiction. A government report, The Indians of Southern California in 1852, explained that many Californians believed "destiny had awarded California to the Americans to develop" and that if the Indians "interfered with progress they should be pushed aside."

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