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An Election We Could Not Sit Out: How Indigenous Voters Helped Defeat Trump & Elect Biden

StoryNovember 18, 2020
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Image Credit: Twitter / @allieyoung13

Native American voters saw a massive increase in turnout this year and helped deliver key swing states for Joe Biden, but Indigenous peoples and the role they played in defeating Donald Trump have been largely ignored in mainstream media analyses. We speak with Allie Young, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and founder of Protect the Sacred, who organized a horseback trail ride to the polls. She says it was important to her to motivate Indigenous youth to turn out. “I was hearing on the ground that they weren’t feeling very motivated to participate in this election,” she says. “I wanted to communicate to them that this is an election that we just cannot sit out.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to talk about what Native Americans can do, and that has to do with voting, which certainly people came out in force. We’d like to ask you to stay with us, Allie. We’re also going to be joined by a Native American from Wisconsin. But, Jodi Archambault, in this last 30 seconds that we have you, can you, overall, talk about the massive voter turnout, at least increase in Native American turnout, not noted in the mainstream media?

JODI ARCHAMBAULT: Sure. I just want to say that despite the risk of being exposed to COVID, the numbers were incredible. And I think that this is something that is often overlooked by mainstream media, only because mainstream media has a tendency to leave out the full picture when it comes to Native Americans. In fact, CNN did an infographic, and they labeled — they did a breakdown of all the different people who voted in the election, and for Native Americans, they didn’t have us labeled as Native Americans. They called us “something else,” 6%.

AMY GOODMAN: We have that actual graphic right here. It says “white.” It says “Latinx” [sic]. It says “Black.” And then — or “Latino,” “Black,” and then “something else,” and then “Asian.”

JODI ARCHAMBAULT: Yeah, yeah. And social media, we are very much — our resiliency is through our humor. And so, it just took off. Everybody kept saying, like, “Custer said, 'Yeah, they sure are something else.'” You know, Custer, from the last couple centuries ago. And a lot of people have just taken it as a call to try to bring attention to the people at CNN, to the people at the mainstream, who just continuously don’t see us. They don’t see us, and it’s intentional, because we are a reminder of the bloodshed that it took to make this country. We’re not congruent with the American dream.

And we are still here. We’re actually leading, leading the way on how to handle pandemics, because we’ve been through so many of them. And it’s so much ingrained in our communities that we’re not seeing this as — we’re not victims in this; we’re actually ready to fight. We’re ready to push back and do what we can to protect ourselves, because it’s the only way we’ve made it this far. And we know that people in America don’t see us, so we have to do it for ourselves.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah. And, Jodi, I wanted to comment on this, because I also, when I saw this figure of “something else” or “other” in these exit polls, tried to dig down a little deeper into what was behind it, especially since it had appeared to grow by about a percentage point from the previous election. It turns out that this is a catch-all placeholder, where they include people who identify themselves as multiracial, people who declined in the exit polls to identify their race, and also Native Americans. So it’s a catch-all, which — it’s indefensible, but it is a complex number. And it turns out that about two-thirds of those who identified as “other” or “something else” voted for Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. So, it’s a shortcut for the exit poll people not to have to do a better job of being able to parse the various parts of the electorate.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank Jodi Archambault for joining us, citizen of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota. And we’re going to continue on this issue, that Juan is just addressing, with Allie Young, who led horseback riders to the polls. She’s a citizen of the Navajo Nation, founder of Protect the Sacred. And we’re going to go to Wisconsin to speak with a Native American man who’s been analyzing the Native American vote. No, it’s not “something else.” It is the Native American nations of this country. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Tia Wood singing “Ride to the Polls,” a song cover of “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas and Billy Ray Cyrus. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we continue to look at how Native American voters in key swing states helped to turn the 2020 presidential election for Joe Biden due to a massive increase in Native voter participation.

As we reported, on election night, CNN sparked swift backlash after posting an image of voter demographics which included a racial category labeling Native American voters as, quote, “something else.” They would later apologize.

In fact, it was Native American voters who helped flip several states for Biden in this year’s presidential showdown. In Arizona, a state that has not gone blue since 1996, Navajo voters turned out in much higher rates than 2016, after a massive grassroots effort to get out the vote. In Wisconsin, where Biden won by just 21,000 votes, there was also a surge in Native American voter participation that helped turn the state blue. Trump won Wisconsin in 2016.

For more on voting in Indian Country and the critical role Native American voters played in this election, we’re joined from Wisconsin by Burton Warrington. He’s president of Indian Ave Group. He is a lawyer who served in the Interior Department. He is Menominee, Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk. Still with us in Arizona [sic] is Allie Young, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and founder of Protect the Sacred.

Allie, if you could start off by talking about what you did in Arizona? Talk about the horseback ride that you took — actually, I understand you’re now in New Mexico.

ALLIE YOUNG: Yes, I am. Yeah, my mom lives here in New Mexico, and I’m with my sister and my mother right now.

Yeah, I work with my father, who lives in Rough Rock, New — or, in Rough Rock, Arizona. Sorry. And we work together, and I’ve always voted in Arizona, resided with my father. And we’ve always done trail rides. That’s our bonding thing. And we’ve done them throughout Navajo Nation. And this year, when we were thinking about the election, he wanted to do a Biden-Harris trail ride. And when I called him back and thought about the significance of a trail ride and the respect that our people have for the horses — and, you know, as we call it, horse medicine. And horse medicine is when you are in rhythm with the horse, and almost in sync, and you’re reconnected and refocused as you ride in our own homelands and are reminded of exactly what our ancestors have fought for, our lands to still be in our own homelands, and our cultures and also our right to vote.

So, I went back to my father, and I said, “So, what’s happening with the trail ride?” And he said, “Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t think we’re going to do it.” And I said, “I think we should do it. But with Protect the Sacred, I have to be nonpartisan, so if it’s more of a getting folks out to the polls so that they can cast their ballots, I think we should do that,” because at the same time, I think that our Native American youth — I was hearing on the ground that they weren’t feeling very motivated to participate in this election, as a lot of other communities of color, because, you know, why continue participating in a system that has never worked for us and is not working for us? And I wanted to communicate to them that this is an election that we just cannot sit out.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You’re talking to me, Julie?

AMY GOODMAN: Keep going, Allie.

ALLIE YOUNG: And so, I wanted them to — I often find that our Native youth, you know, we are more educated than ever. That’s why there’s this resistance, because we know our history and what has happened to us historically. And also, we’re more connected to technology and information than ever, and we’re more eager to reconnect to our cultures, and that respect for our ancestors and our elders is still there. And so I wanted to strategize and use that and say, “OK, let’s find something that will excite our Native youth that’s rooted in our culture, that will also help us reclaim Arizona,” because, you know, I keep saying that Arizona is Indigenous DNA, it is not Republican DNA, as I heard on the news when I was watching about a month before we decided to do trail — ride to the polls. And that’s what really motivated me, is because Arizona has this deep history of many tribal communities, and it is not just a place where white conservatives go to retire. And this is our homeland. And we wanted — I called on my people: “Let’s show up. Let’s show them that we’re still here. Let’s be represented. Let’s make sure that we have a seat at the table and that our voices are heard.” And so, that’s why it was so important. And I’m so happy that a lot of young people did come out. It did excite them. I got so many positive messages from our efforts. And I think it was a positive turnout.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Allie, I wanted to ask you about that. What were the results, from what you’ve been able to tell? Not so much, obviously, because the exit polls didn’t factor in or count Native American votes, but what’s been the result in the actual vote totals that you’ve been able to see so far?

ALLIE YOUNG: Yeah, well, I believe around 60-something thousand Navajos in Navajo Nation. So, Coconino County, Navajo County — which is where I did all of my work, and I vote in Navajo County — and Apache County, they all overlap the Navajo Nation. And in those areas, Navajo people turned out to vote. I think 84% of those who had registered turned out to vote, and 97% of those who cast their ballot voted for Joe Biden. And that’s just incredible. That just shows the contribution of the Native vote in key swing states, in not only Navajo Nation, but there is a map that compares tribal communities, and all of those tribal communities voted blue. And so, we came out strong. I think we did do a great job in reclaiming Arizona, saying that we’re still here, that we’ve always been here, and that now we’re going to keep working to hold this new administration accountable, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, you not only organized Navajo voters, Allie, but one of the hardest groups not so much to organize, to get out in the streets, to be activists, but to actually vote. And that’s young people. Maybe it’s because of your last name, Allie Young, but you sure managed to galvanize a lot of young people. What kind of message do you have for what is the most effective way to get first-time voters involved, to make them feel like they really are making a difference, when it’s — you know, they haven’t done this before?

ALLIE YOUNG: Well, my strategy was all around, you know, you’ve got to think about what we’re working within. With young people, we are very tuned in to social media, so definitely it is a powerful tool. So, connecting with them that way, we had a huge social media strategy, and also layering in the cultural revitalization, and particularly with Native youth, but also, I think, with a lot of other youth across other communities of color, because I think we’re in this amazing moment where all of our communities of color are reconnecting to our cultures and really proud of who we are and where we come from. So, using that and saying, “Let’s show up in that way. Let’s show, through social media, in fighting for our representation,” that takes work. And we have to — you know, we’re not just going to automatically be talked about in the media. We have to show up.

And that’s the messaging that I used, especially for Native people, who — we’re too often invisible in the media. We’re called “something else.” And so, you know, let’s turn that on its head. Let’s show them that we’re still here, we’re not going away, and we’re going to make our statements. And I think that’s really effective, with especially our leaders, our young leaders today. We are very progressive. We are — I think, as Native people, we’re innately activists and political, because we’re not even supposed to be here. And that’s definitely the messaging and strategy that I used.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Allie, we have less than a minute left, but I’m wondering just if you could quickly say what your main expectations are of the new Biden administration’s policy toward Native American people?

ALLIE YOUNG: Yeah. Well, we’re definitely going to be making sure that we’re represented, especially when it comes to climate change. We do want a seat at the table. We want to be in that conversation, because we have just incredible knowledge about the ways that we respect Mother Earth, that we honor Mother Earth, and those are things that will end up saving Mother Earth. And so, learning from us and collaborating with us, and also on issues of — we’re still in COVID-19, and it’s still severely impacting our tribal communities, so we’re expected — we’re expecting them to work with us in helping us to bring the funding and the aid that we need, because $8 billion was not enough in the initial stimulus package.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much, Allie Young, for being with us, citizen of the Navajo Nation, organized throughout Arizona, is in New Mexico now, and founder of Protect the Sacred. And we will bring you Burton Warrington, Menominee, Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk, at, to talk about the critical Native voter count in Wisconsin.

This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Save lives.

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