Navajo Nation president testifies before congress to secure Native American voting rights

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Image Courtesy of the Navajo Nation

WASHINGTON D.C. (ABC4)- Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez testified before Congress  on Wednesday in support of Native American voting rights during a hearing titled, “Restoring the Voting Rights Act: Protecting the Native American and Alaska Native Vote.”

“Protecting the Native American vote requires considering 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 polls.”

Nez also said that the Navajo Nation cannot rely on states to provide protections to their voting rights which is why he is calling on Congress to act. 

Historically, Native Americans faced difficulties when it came to obtaining the right to vote. The Dawes Act, or the General Allotment Act, was passed in February 1887. According to the Library of Congress, the passing of the act had disastrous consequences for Native peoples.

In 1924, the Snyder Act was passed. It gave Native Americans full citizenship. Through the 15th Amendment, which was passed in 1870, it granted full voting rights to all U.S. citizens regardless of their ethnicity.

Despite the passing of the Snyder Act, Native Americans continued to be prevented from taking part in elections. States themselves decided who had the right to vote per 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 Snyder Act was passed, it took until the early part of the 1960s for all fifty states to recognize Native Americans’ right to vote. Now, Navajo Nation President Nez is working to maintain that right.

“The federal government must fulfill its trust responsibility and safeguard our Navajo citizens’ right to vote,” he said.

Nez’s testimony focused on support for the Native American Voting Rights Act, a bill that was recently attached to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

He also said that transportation options were limited in the Navajo Nation and most households only had one vehicle. Nez called traveling to polling places as a result “burdensome.”

Other issues were brought up, including language barriers and the need to distribute materials in the Navajo language. Nez reminged Congress of the Navajo Code Talkers and how they helped the U.S. win the Second World War. In return, something should be done to help the Navajo Nation and other Native Americans maintain their right to vote.

Others who testified on behalf of Native Americans were Jacqueline De Leon with the Native American Rights Fund, Alaska Federation of Natives Executive Vice President & General Counsel Nicole Borromeo, Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson & Ashmore, LLP Partner Sara Frankenstein, and Wyoming Secretary of State Edward Buchanan.

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