WASHINGTON DC (ABC4) – Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez testified before Congress Wednesday in support of Native American voting rights at a hearing titled “Restoring Voting Rights Act: Protecting the Vote Native Americans and Alaska Natives “.
“Protecting the Native American vote requires taking into account the unique challenges faced by Navajo voters,” Nez said, “The [Navajo] Nation continues to fight repeated efforts by states and their political subdivisions through restrictive voting laws and policies that impede access to the ballot box. “
Nez also said the Navajo Nation cannot count on states to protect their voting rights, which is why he is calling on Congress to act.
Historically, Native Americans have encountered difficulties in obtaining the right to vote. According to the Library of Congress, the Dawes Act, or the General Allotment Act, was passed in February 1887 and had dire consequences for Indigenous peoples.
In 1924, the Snyder law was adopted. He gave Native Americans full citizenship. Through the 15th Amendment, which was passed in 1870, it granted full voting rights to all American citizens, regardless of their ethnicity.
Despite the passage of the Snyder Law, Native Americans continued to be barred from participating in elections. States themselves decided who had the right to vote according to the Constitution, which made it all the more difficult for Native Americans to vote if a state did not recognize or validate their citizenship.
After the passage of the Snyder Law, it was not until the early 1960s that the fifty states recognized the right to vote for Native Americans. Now the President of the Navajo Nation, Nez, is working to uphold that right.
“The federal government must live up to its responsibility to trust and protect the right to vote of our Navajo citizens,” he said.
Nez’s testimony focused on supporting the Native American Voting Rights Act, a bill that was recently joined to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Nez also touched on geography, language, institutional barriers, and socio-economic challenges and barriers that impact Navajo voters during elections.
“Many citizens of the Navajo Nation live in rural areas and travel long distances to access basic needs and services,” Nez said. “Getting to a polling station is often difficult because transportation options are limited. “
He also said transportation options were limited in the Navajo Nation and most households only had one vehicle. Nez described the trips to the polling stations as “heavy”.
Other issues were raised, including language barriers and the need to distribute documents in the Navajo language. Nez recalled the Congress of Navajo Code Talkers and how they helped the United States win World War II. In return, something should be done to help the Navajo Nation and other Native Americans retain their right to vote.
Jacqueline De Leon of the Native American Rights Fund, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the Alaska Native Federation, Nicole Borromeo, Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, Associate LLP Sara Frankenstein and Secretary of State of Wyoming also testified on behalf of Native Americans. Edouard Buchanan.