Barack Obama and the Native Vote

Like millions of people all over the world, I’m ecstatic,
over-the-moon inspired by Obama’s win, if for no other reason 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 care 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 color in office is a victory for us all!"

Which were all great things to hear rather 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 that the campaign is over, 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 five 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

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

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. The VOTEYESFORLIFE campaign 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.

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!

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 meters 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

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

This post was first published at Racialicious.

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  • invalid-0

    Oh Jessica, this is a fantastic analysis. Being a white American myself, I can hardly grasp all of the nuances you speak of within the Native community, but as an advocate of reproductive justice, your work here left me nodding fiercely and saying “YES!” to myself maybe 12 times. Especially in how you describe the literal destruction of the Matriarchy that ruled so many Native groups before the arrival of the colonizers, and how that has affected your (and everyone’s) community since. Great work!

  • heather-corinna

    I’m so delighted to see you — and your work — here, Jessica!


    Those photos and your words, as ever, are so powerful.  I wish I could say I was surprised about the propaganda, but alas, I’ll have to stick with my usual of being merely disgusted.

  • invalid-0

    Excellent post and analysis. We will have to see if Obama lives up to any of his promises in terms of Native Americans, I have my hopes…

  • invalid-0

    …as well.

    Beautiful post and very informative. I am so glad to have came across this!

  • invalid-0

    lies in our future. We can all hope that Obama will come through and save our current economic situation. I did not know the First Americans for Obama campaign. But, now I am informed. I wish all of us the best. Thanks for sharing.