By Vi Waln
Tribal people born in this country weren’t considered American citizens until June 2, 1924. This means we’ve only been recognized as citizens of this country for 92 years. Some of us have grandparents who were granted American citizenship when they were children. Our great-grandparents were not considered American citizens, even though they were born and died on this continent. Consequently, citizens of the United States are granted certain rights and responsibilities. Our lives can definitely improve when we take advantage of all the rights that come with being a US citizen.
Despite our recognition as American citizens, there are many tribal people who would rather not acknowledge their citizenship. In fact, there are tribal people whom actively reject their citizenship. Many tribal people reject American citizenship as a form of protest against the US Government. I understand their position and tend to agree with many of them.
Still, we do live here in this country. Most of us aren’t planning to go anywhere. So, we do have the right to take advantage of certain privileges which are available to us as American citizens. I don’t see my tribal citizenship diminished by my choice to take advantage of the rights granted to American citizens.
One of the privileges we have as American citizens is our right to vote in tribal, county, state and national elections. Voting in elections doesn’t make you “white” or mean you are assimilated. Exercising your right to vote means you are taking an active role in determining who is elected to represent you.
There are many people in our county, state and country who don’t want tribal citizens to vote. It brings them great satisfaction to know tribal citizens won’t get out and vote. They also know that when tribal citizens do decide to take an active role in elections, we will have the collective power to easily elect candidates who will work hard to ensure that many issues facing tribes are improved.
You have the responsibility to decide who is put into office to make decisions for you and your family. Our children need all of us to vote. The quality of our lives, as well as our children’s lives, depends on voting in honest, qualified, ethical leaders who will act with integrity.
All across this country there are people who make a choice NOT to participate in the election process. We are currently in a Presidential Election year. Many of us are tired of the campaigning craziness we are watching in the news. Unfortunately, we still have 8 months to continue being bombarded with the often unscrupulous campaign antics of the current US Presidential hopefuls.
Even though I tend to disagree with the philosophy of political candidates on nearly all levels, I still exercise my right to vote. My vote counts because I am an important citizen with a voice that people need to hear. I vote in all elections I am eligible for – tribal, county, state and federal. My ancestors sacrificed their lives so we could continue to live on this Turtle Island. I am not about to disregard their sacrifice by refusing to vote.
Many of you believe your vote doesn’t make a difference. However, an example of the Native Vote making a difference in a key election was when Tim Johnson beat John Thune in 2002 for the US Senate seat. The voters on the Pine Ridge Reservation exercised their right to cast ballots during that election to put Johnson in office.
The voters living in Todd County have a chance to do the same this summer during the Todd County School Board election. Voters wanting to see change in their student’s classroom would do well to go to the polls and election qualified, educated people to the school board. I believe former educators are highly qualified to serve as school board members, as they have spent time as either teachers or administrators. Who else knows the needs of students better?
You have the power to elect people to the Todd County School Board who will look out for the educational interests of your students. School boards should not be political, but unfortunately they often are. Some school board members will discount the concerns you’ve voiced as mere rumors. When a governing body allows politics to drive their decisions, they will often overlook the people they are supposed to be serving. The students attending the Todd County School District need school board members who care about quality education.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Education Department, as well as the Education Committee, encourages all tribal citizens to register to vote today! Cast your vote in the June 2016 School Board Election. Vote for former educators who are familiar with your students.
The power of change is in your hands, don’t let it slip away.