The Eastern Cherokee and the Right to Vote

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The struggle of African-Americans to obtain the right to vote has been well documented, but the struggle for American Indian voting rights is less well-known and more complex. The voting rights battles fought by the Eastern Cherokee in North Carolina provide one aspect of this battle.  

General Background:

Toward the end of the nineteenth century the United States government decided that American Indians, like immigrants from other countries, should be fully assimilated into American society. However, a series of court rulings and legal opinions declared that not only were American Indians not citizens, they could not become citizens without Congressional action. In 1887 Congress passed the Dawes Act which allowed Indians who had taken allotments to become citizens. Following World War I, Congress passed an act making all Indians who had served in the military during the war citizens. Finally, in 1924 Congress passed legislation declaring all Indians to be citizens.

The Eastern Cherokee:

In 1920, a large number of Eastern Cherokee – including Cherokee women – registered to vote. As a result of Cherokee participation in the election, Republicans won almost every office in Jackson County by narrow margins. The Democrats protested the election results claiming that the Cherokee were not eligible to vote. As a result, Cherokee votes were thrown out on the basis that the Cherokee were non-citizen wards of the United States.

Two days after passing the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, Congress passed a bill to allot the Eastern Cherokee in North Carolina. The bill, written prior to the passage of the Citizenship Act, provided that the Eastern Cherokee would become citizens only after receiving and registering their allotments. The State Attorney General took the position that the Eastern Cherokee were, therefore, not citizens because this bill superseded the Indian Citizenship Act. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, on the other hand, took the position that they were citizens. Local registrars assumed that the Cherokee were not citizens and did not allow them to register to vote.

The following year, the federal government assumed trusteeship for Eastern Cherokee land and informed county officials that they could not tax Indian property. This was the first time since the Eastern Cherokee acquired these lands in the 19th century that they had not had to pay property taxes. For those who felt that only taxpayers should be allowed to vote, this provided another reason to prohibit Indians from voting.

Congress passed an act to clear up the confusion of the citizenship of the Eastern Cherokee in 1929. The act reaffirmed Eastern Cherokee citizenship under the Indian Citizen Act of 1924 and declared that this citizenship had not been repealed or abridged with the passage of the Eastern Cherokee Allotment Act two days later. Local officials in North Carolina, however, ignored Congress and continued to deny the Eastern Cherokee the right to vote.

The following year, Eastern Cherokee leader Henry M. Owl was denied the right to register to vote. The registrar refused to register Indians because they were not citizens. In response, Congress passed yet another act once again reaffirming citizenship for the Eastern Cherokee. Local newspapers protested Congressional interference with local affairs. Despite the explicit and repeated directives from Congress, county registrars continued to deny Cherokees the right to vote.

A report by the Solicitor General in 1937 found that North Carolina denied Indians the right to vote claiming that Indians were illiterate. The superintendent of the Cherokee Agency reported:

“We have had Indian graduates of Carlisle, Haskell, and other schools in stances much better educated than the registrar himself, turned down because they did not read or write to his satisfaction.”

In 1940, Congress passed the Nationality Act which again conferred citizenship on American Indians and required that Indian men register for the draft. In response, the Eastern Cherokee tribal council drafted a resolution which argued that the fact that the Eastern Cherokee were denied the right to vote in North Carolina also denied them fair treatment and equal rights by county draft boards. The council asserted that

“any organization or group that would deprive a people of as sacred a right as the right of suffrage would not hesitate to deprive them of other constitutional rights including the three inalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, if the opportunity to do so presents itself.”

Following World War II, county registrars in North Carolina refused to register Eastern Cherokee war veterans to vote. The Cherokee appealed the decisions to the governor and attorney general, but nothing was done.

After lawsuits by Indian veterans in Arizona and New Mexico declared that Indians were citizens and had the right to vote, resistance to Indian voting in North Carolina was reduced and the Eastern Cherokee began to participate in American democracy.  

Voting and Native Languages

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The federal election voter guide is now available in the four most commonly spoken Native American/Alaska Native languages:  Cherokee, Dakota, Navajo and Yup’ik. These languages are spoken by about 220,500 Americans.

Native American Languages:

Five centuries ago, there were more than 500 distinct Native American languages spoken in North America. With European contact, Native languages began to disappear. The death of these languages was brought about by two basic factors: (1) the death of the people who spoke them, caused by European diseases and deliberate genocide, and (2) the active suppression of Native languages by the American government.

By the 1960s, there were still 175 Indian languages being spoken in the United States and Canada. Of these languages, 136 had fewer than 2,000 speakers and 34 had fewer than 10 speakers. By 2007, it was estimated that only 154 Indian languages were still being spoken and that half of these were spoken only by elders.

At the present time, it estimated that there are 46 Indian languages which are still being spoken by significant numbers of children. Languages which are being learned by children have some chance of survival.  A flourishing language is one in which the contact or colonial language is used almost entirely as a second language. In North America only Navajo, Mississippi Choctaw, and some Cree communities fit this definition.  

Retention of the native language is an important issue for many tribes. Many Native American communities have language programs to try to teach their languages to children.  As a consequence there are on many reservations programs which are intended to maintain the language. In communities in which the children no longer speak the native language, the goal is language revival in which the Indian language is taught as a second language. By 1986 there were 98 language projects involving 55 different Indian languages. There was an enrollment of more than 14,000 students in these programs. By 2006, there were 62 native languages being taught in 101 programs in 24 states and provinces.

In 1990, Congress passed the Native American Languages Act which declared a national policy of respect for Native American languages and encouragement of their continued vitality. In 1997, the Indigenous Language Institute began to put an emphasis on the revitalization of Indian languages, not just their preservation. With new technologies, such as computers, and working with Native communities, languages can be revitalized as a part of daily life.

Navajo:

Navajo (Diné bizaad) is an Athabaskan language which is spoken by more than 140,000 native speakers. Over half of the Navajo speak the language at home and the language is commonly used for everyday communication. Many parents still pass on the Navajo language to their children as a first language.

During World War II, Navajo was used as a code in the Pacific by bilingual code talkers to send military messages over the radio.

While many Navajo still speak their language, a recent survey shows that only 5% of the school-aged children on the reservation speak the language fluently. In an attempt to counter this language loss, many elementary school classes on the reservation are now offering immersion classes in Navajo. One study found that in Window Rock, Arizona, Indian children who began school in Dine (Navajo) and learned English as a second language performed almost two grade levels above their peers who started school in English.

Census data from the Navajo reservation indicate that between 1980 and 1990 the proportion of Navajos aged 5-17 who spoke only English rose from 12% to 28%, and by 2000, the figure reached 43%.

The language most closely related to Navajo is Apache.

Dakota:

There are about 20,355 speakers of Dakota in the United States and Canada. On the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota, there are only 120 fluent speakers out of a tribal population of 4,435. All of the Spirit Lake fluent speakers are elderly. In order to retain the language, people meet in the school gym every other Tuesday for soup and conversation in Dakota.

Cherokee:

Cherokee is an Iroquoian language which is spoken in Oklahoma and in North Carolina. It is estimated that there are between 12,000 and 22,000 fluent speakers. Cherokee is unique among the languages of Native American cultures in North America as it has its own writing system.

Yup’ik:

Yup’ik is an Eskimo-Aleut language which is spoken by about 10,000 Natives in Alaska. Since the mid-1970s, educational programs have been implemented to revive and sustain the language. The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a bachelors degree in Yup’ik language and culture and in Yup’ik Eskimo, as well as Associates Degrees in Native Language Education, with a concentration in Yup’ik, and in Yup’ik Language Proficiency.

American Indian Voting Rights

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During the first part of the twentieth century, American Indians were granted citizenship by Congressional action on several different occasions. While citizenship is often felt to be associated with the right to vote, this has not always been the case with regard to Indians. The right to vote is a right which has been traditionally controlled by the states. The states had tended to view Indian voting and Indian citizenship as two separate items. While the struggle by African Americans to obtain the right to vote is fairly well known, the struggle by American Indians to obtain this right is less well known.  

In North Carolina, there was some confusion over whether or not the 1924 act giving citizenship to Indians applied to the Cherokee. In response, Congress passed another act in 1928 which specifically granted citizenship to the North Carolina Cherokee. However, Eastern Cherokee leader Henry M. Owl was denied the right to register to vote in 1930. The registrar refused to register Indians because they were not citizens. In response, Congress passed another act once again reaffirming citizenship for the Eastern Cherokee. Local newspapers protested Congressional interference with local affairs and county registrars continued to deny Cherokees the vote until after World War II. North Carolina denied Indians the right to vote claiming that Indians were illiterate. The superintendent of the Cherokee Agency reported: “We have had Indian graduates of Carlisle, Haskell, and other schools in stances much better educated than the registrar himself, turned down because they did not read or write to his satisfaction.”

In 1946, North Carolina county registrars refused to register Eastern Cherokee war veterans to vote. The Cherokee appealed the decision to the governor and attorney general, but nothing was done.

In Arizona two Pima Indians attempted to vote in 1928. The Arizona Supreme Court in Porter v. Hall concluded that Indians were not entitled to vote because they were “wards of the government” and persons “under guardianship” were prohibited from voting by the state constitution. The Arizona Attorney General’s office ruled in 1944 that Indians who were living outside the reservation and who were subject to state laws and state taxation were not eligible to vote.

Some states passed legislation to disenfranchise Indians. In an effort to deny Indians the right to vote, the Montana state constitution was amended in 1932 to permit only taxpayers to vote. Since Indians on reservations did not pay some local taxes, they could not become voters. The Montana state legislature in 1937 passed a law requiring all deputy voter registrars to be qualified, taxpaying residents of their precincts. Since Indians living on reservations were exempt from some local taxes, this requirement excluded almost all Indians from serving as deputy registrars. It thus denied Montana’s Indians access to voter registration in their own precincts.

A 1937 report by the Solicitor General found that several states denied Indians the right to vote. In response to the inquiry by the Solicitor General, Colorado’s attorney general replied: “It is our opinion that until Congress enfranchises the Indian, he will not have the right to vote.” Word of the 1924 citizenship act had apparently not yet reached Colorado. Indians were not allowed to serve on juries in Colorado until 1956 and tribal members on reservations were not allowed to vote until 1970.

The Solicitor General also found that four states-Idaho, New Mexico, Maine, and Washington-denied Indians the right to vote because of the phrase “Indians not taxed” in Article 1 of the Constitution.

Utah denied Indians the vote because Indians on reservations were not actually residents of Utah but were residents of their own nations. Indians were thus considered non-residents and hence not eligible to vote. In 1957, the Utah state legislature finally repealed the legislation that prevented Indians living on reservations from voting.

Many historians cite 1948 as the year in which Indians finally won the right to vote. Court rulings in Arizona and New Mexico affirmed that Indians have the right to vote. The Court ruling in New Mexico was started when Miguel Trujillo, Sr. (Laguna), a teacher, attempted to register to vote and was refused by the recorder of Valencia County. In the ruling, the Court found that New Mexico had discriminated against Indians by denying them the vote, especially since they paid all state and federal taxes except for private property taxes on the reservations.

In Arizona, Frank Harrison and Harry Austin, both Mohave-Apache at the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation, attempted to register to vote and were not allowed to register. In Harrison v. Laveen the Arizona Supreme Court overturned the earlier Porter v. Hall decision and agreed with the plaintiffs that their Arizona and United States constitutional rights had been violated.

In Maine, Indians were finally given the right to vote in 1953 when the state accepted the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act.

During the past fifty years, the focus has shifted from obtaining the right to vote, to getting Indians elected to local, state, and federal offices. States and local governments in the western states have responded by diluting the Indian vote through redistricting plans. However, this is the subject of a different diary.  

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Yes, it is Time for A Change with Alaska Natives and Native Americans.

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Yes, it is Time for A Change with Alaska Natives and Native Americans.

More then any group or race in all of America the Alaska Native and Native American Population from birth to their death have more regulations and polices governing their very life and existence.  Their rights and privileges like that of other Americans; for example, voting rights, it was not until 1924 that the Alaska Native and Native American population were granted citizenship.  In Arizona, tribes were not granted voting rights and had to go to court to gain their right to vote in 1948.  In the 2004 national election some tribes their voting was disenfranchised and again the tribes when to court to simply exercise their right to vote.  

Under Republican presidential administrations, there has been a cutting away at tribal sovereignty.  In 2005, the current president appointed an anti-Native to the U. Supreme Court.  In 2007, President Bush cut the national budget for Alaska Native and Native American programs by 30%.  Hardly making news is Arab Dubai, which receives billions of U.S. Taxpayers dollars to rebuild that country, and oil firm Halliburton has moved out of USA to Dubai, which is dubbed the world’s fastest growing city at the expense of US Taxpayers.  Billions of dollars going to Arab Dubai while across Indian Country, USA only 1500 homes per year are built and yet we have a demand for 200,000 homes.

We see tribes with natural resources that are much needed by America and yet with the resources available we still see many tribes suffering in poverty and lack of a tribal economy.  Since the first president to the current president of this country, tribes have made generations of formal presentations on their social and economic plights.  We see little or no results and across Indian Country, USA poverty rates are high as 80% unemployment.

Have any of the political candidates for president visited any of the reservations across Indian Country, USA?  Only three presidential candidates when to that first time ever-political forum.  On a positive note, across Indian Country, USA in 11 States there are 29 Native American Candidates running for political office.  This not only increases Native Voter participation but also gives us insurances that our rights, privileges, and tribal sovereignty are protected.  Some Natives say the political process is like participating with a foreign country.  The political reality is Native Voter participation is much received like in Washington State the tribes there ousted a racist US Senator and replacing that Senator with a Democratic US Senator.  In Arizona, tribal voting put into place a Democratic Governor and State Attorney General.  Yet Arizona is a Republican stronghold state so Native American voting does make a difference and does count.  One Tribe in Arizona has a very high turn out rate when it comes to voting, Ft. McDowell, has an 85% turn out at primary and general elections.

In Arizona, the Arizona Democratic Party has a Tribal Outreach person who informs the tribes on political issues and important legislation that is in place for the tribes.  The National Democratic Party their convention had 148 delegates and 6 of the delegates were placed on key committees, including the Democratic Platform Committee.  We have and will continue to voice our concerns on funding tribal programs that it be fair and just budgets and demand that no budget cutting take place by the office of the president.

As the tribes embark upon a new presidential administration, will it be a president that meets the social and economic needs of all of Indian Country, USA?  Will we confront the status quo with a do nothing president and administration?  We see countries that the USA has been at war with prospering.  Yet, right in their homeland America, there were wars with Native Americans and we have yet to be compensated.   We remain unknown by the leaders of America and yet some of today’s Tribes have been misplaced and displaced to lands, which are not their aboriginal lands.  Do we as Tribes remain unknown by greater America and nothing happen for us as Tribes or do we change the status quo and gain some solutions?  

Yes, it is Time for A Change with Alaska Natives and Native Americans.

More then any group or race in all of America the Alaska Native and Native American Population from birth to their death have more regulations and polices governing their very life and existence.  Their rights and privileges like that of other Americans; for example, voting rights, it was not until 1924 that the Alaska Native and Native American population were granted citizenship.  In Arizona, tribes were not granted voting rights and had to go to court to gain their right to vote in 1948.  In the 2004 national election some tribes their voting was disenfranchised and again the tribes when to court to simply exercise their right to vote.  The disenfranchisement was due to lack of photo identification.

Under Republican presidential administrations, there has been a cutting away at tribal sovereignty.  In 2005, the current president appointed an anti-Native to the U. Supreme Court.  In 2007, President Bush cut the national budget for Alaska Native and Native American programs by 30%.  Looking at the Nation’s budget 43% of it is for war efforts while only 12% is used to reduce poverty in America.  Hardly making news is Arab Dubai, which receives billions of U.S. Taxpayers dollars to rebuild that country, and oil firm Halliburton has moved out of USA to Dubai, which is dubbed the world’s fastest growing city at the expense of US Taxpayers.  Billions of dollars going to Arab Dubai while across Indian Country, USA only 1500 homes per year are built and yet we have a demand for 200,000 homes.

We see tribes with natural resources that are much needed by America and yet with the resources available we still see many tribes suffering in poverty and lack of a tribal economy.  Since the first president to the current president of this country, tribes have made generations of formal presentations on their social and economic plights.  We see little or no results and across Indian Country, USA poverty rates are high as 80% unemployment.

Have any of the political candidates for president visited any of the reservations across Indian Country, USA?  This year in August a first time presidential forum was held in California hosted by one of the tribes.  Only three presidential candidates when to that first time ever-political forum.  Is this a reflection of how we will be treated in the future by any of the presidential candidates and just giving a token effort on our concerns and issues, which are faced on a daily basis.

On a positive note, across Indian Country, USA in 11 States there are 29 Native American Candidates running for political office.  This not only increases Native Voter participation but also gives us ensurances that our rights, privileges, and tribal sovereignty are protected.  Some Natives say the political process is like participating with a foreign country.  The political reality is Native Voter participation is much received like in Washington State the tribes there ousted a racist US Senator and replacing that Senator with a Democratic US Senator.  In Arizona, tribal voting put into place a Democratic Governor and State Attorney General.  Yet Arizona is a Republican stronghold state so Native American voting does make a difference and does count.  One Tribe in Arizona has a very high turn out rate when it comes to voting, Ft. McDowell, has an 85% turn out at primary and general elections.

In Arizona, the Arizona Democratic Party has a Tribal Outreach person who informs the tribes on political issues and important legislation that is in place for the tribes.  The National Democratic Party their convention had 148 delegates and 6 of the delegates were placed on key committees, including the Democratic Platform Committee.  More then ever before Tribes are becoming visible and we see more voter participation with real emphasis on protecting our rights and our tribal sovereignty.   We have and will continue to voice our concerns on funding tribal programs that it be fair and just budgets and demand that no budget cutting take place by the office of the president.

As the tribes embark upon a new presidential administration, will it be a president that meets the social and economic needs of all of Indian Country, USA?  Alternatively, will we face business as usual with an uphill battle in Congress and with the office of the president?  Will we confront the status quo with a do nothing president and administration?  Since the very first president to the current president, we have yet to see our social and economic plights are fully addressed.  Yet, we see other countries prospering with foreign aid given to them by the USA.  We see countries that the USA has been at war with prospering.  Yet, right in their homeland America, there were wars with Native Americans and we have yet to be compensated.   We remain unknown by the leaders of America and yet some of today’s Tribes have been misplaced and displaced to lands, which are not their aboriginal lands.  Moreover, many of the lands we placed upon was forced moves and without our full participation.  Do we as Tribes remain unknown by greater America and nothing happen for us as Tribes or do we change the status quo and gain some solutions?  Let us go for the changes and sign up to vote for next month is deadline to vote and make our vote count for it does make a difference.