Vote Early and Often

Steve Russell

Should Indians show up when elections are called by the colonial state? I can’t say “Yes” because a more appropriate answer is “Hell, yes!” Bias out front: my first career was as a state court judge, which is an elected position. If Indians should not vote, it stands to reason they should not work for state or federal governments, especially as elected officials who have to swear an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend” the US Constitution not unlike the oath those of us who are veterans took to enter military service.

I do not understand how my citizenship in the U.S., a state, a county or a city conflicts with my citizenship in an Indian nation. Without a doubt, American Indian governments sometimes have interests that do not jibe with the official policies of other political entities. How does it follow that I should not act to change those policies if such action is open to me?

The argument that one cannot serve two sovereigns in anachronistic nonsense for reasons I’ve set out here. A sovereign is no longer a person.

To say a sovereign is dishonest, hateful, or an enemy is a statement from a time when the sovereign was a person, because these are attributes of a person. A sovereign in modern terms is a bureaucratic entity with interchangeable parts. By our citizenship, voluntary or not, we acquire the opportunity to become one of those parts or decide who does. I would argue that it’s more an obligation than an opportunity, but that’s just me.

Another obligation of citizenship is to serve on juries. If you shirk that obligation, what does that mean for Indians who demand jury trials?

Can you incur obligations without your consent? Everybody does. There’s a sense in which you “choose” your family, your clan, your country, your land. But it’s more realistic to say all these things choose you. My non-Indian friends don’t understand me when I say that Europeans own land and Indians are owned by land, but that’s one of many cultural disjunctions we have to work around to live together.

And we must live together. Where do you think they are going to go?

A vote is nothing more than speech, an expression of opinion, and certainly nothing less. I have opinions about whether Vladimir Putin should be head of the Russian government, and I’m happy to share those opinions. If I could vote in the Russian elections, you can bet I would, and my vote would not be based on any desire to harm Russia. Russians, of course, believe my opinions of their best interests are too trammeled by my U.S. or Cherokee citizenships, and so they don’t allow me to vote in Russia. That’s their prerogative.

To put it closer to home, I would vote in both Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band elections if I could. I do not think the best interests of the two conflict.

A U.S. Supreme Court justice, dissenting in an Indian law case, wrote that great nations, like great men, should keep their word. I do not think it betrays my Cherokee citizenship if I use my voice as an involuntary U.S. citizen to urge the U.S. toward greatness. My very presence as an Indian in the political debate is a rebuke to the smug assertion that everything about the U.S. is already great.

That’s the view of conflicting sovereigns from the top, but the view from the bottom is more important in the daily lives of dual citizenship Indians.

In the state where I have taken up residence, we don’t just elect judges. Slivers of sovereignty, the power to decide vested in the nation-state, have been delegated to other entities. The Constitution delegates power to the states and the state where I live has delegated much of that power, such that I might do little but attend to elections if the various jurisdictions did not make every effort to save money by consolidating them.

Perhaps the most important vote people cast is for school board, whether or not we have kids. Then we have the State Board of Education, which picks textbooks. If you can’t see that you have an interest in the proper education of other people’s kids, then maybe you should not vote.

Municipal Utility Districts. Aquifer Protection Districts. Irrelevant, I suppose, unless you drink water.

Community College Boards. Fire Protection District Boards. City Councils.

We elected a County Inspector of Hides until 2007, but I normally skipped that one because I am not a rancher, a trapper, or a tanning booth operator, and I was never sure to which it pertained. One time I did not skip it, and a friend of mine used the office as a stepping-stone to the Legislature, where he was an ally of Indians.

A vote is a written and private expression of your opinion. It differs from verbal and public expressions in that it has more impact. If you don’t care to shape policy with your opinions, there are plenty of persons, human and corporate, who will be happy to do it for you.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

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larrymoniz's picture
Mr. Russell, I commend you. This is a long overdue reminder of what voting is really about. It's not about the GOP, Democrats or even the (chuckle) "Tea Party." Rather it's about all those who have a right to vote exercising that right. For if we don't, we essentially forfeit the right to complain.
husbandofmoonlight's picture
For anyone who is a Native American--whether "an enrolled member" of any of the tribes (those recognized by the occupying nation--the USA) or NOT; yet possessing Native American DNA (exceptionally distinctive and at least 15 thousand years old)---to accept the prospect of "voting" in any election conducted by the "Occupying Nation" the USA (a criminal enterprise from 1776 to present) would/should be absurd---NO; absolutely insane. An excellent comparison would be the 'inmates' at Federal Prisons 'casting votes' in local or national elections . The Native American people as a whole are "Prisoners of War"---since the abrogation of the "Treaties" began in 1883-85 with the first illegal legislation now contained in United States Code, Title 25, "Indians". In any "normal" international laws; when a "treaty" is "abrogated", and this is accomplished when the Treaty is altered, either by changing or 'altered by noncompliance' to any of the 'conditions' of the treaty---and AFTER the treaty is "ratified"; the 'treaty' is THEN,by that action rendered; "null and void". The same would apply to a "civil contract" in the business world; if either party 'breaks' the contract; the contract is rendered 'null and void'. The wording of Art 6 of the US Constitution (a document of convenience at best---from the start) dictates that "all Treaties are Supreme Law"---the USA simply ignores that "inconvenient truth". Thus far, for example, the USA has yet to comply with all of the "conditions of their surrender" to the North Vietnamese--(1973)-much less their surrender to the 'Native American tribes' since the USA NEVER makes treaties with those they can defeat. Offering a "treaty of peace" is "capitulation"---a form of surrender. Since the USA does NOT make peace with those they can "defeat" they just haven't defeated any nations since the Japanese---where the USA became the first nation to use Nuclear weapons---twice; both times on known civilian targets. These are all acts of a criminal nation: the USA. It seems recently with even the 'conservative news outlets' the USA has 'expanded' its criminal activities---to insane proportions. They have a former president who confesses to war crimes in writing as well as public forums and walks around with "secret service" protection; yet if he were the same criminal in another Nation---the Americans would be holding 'bake sales' if needed to raise the money to send 'contractors' in to take him into custody; then later, film the hanging/execution for "Fox News". Please do not forget the current President---he brags in his speeches about extra judicial executions of his fellow citizens---and anyone who happens to be having dinner with him at the "target zone" of the Drone aircraft. Even the 'US citizens' should be ashamed to vote in such a corrupt nation; yet they 'feed the monster with their own participation'; they seem doomed to failure. For Native Americans to vote in these acts of 'organized criminal behavior'---"elections" is to mock the sacrifices their ancestors made when they 'defeated' the USA---who were forced to bring 'treaties to THEM'. The USA surrenderd to the "tribes"---not the reverse.. Taking this into consideration; the Native American People are still at war with the United States of America: why would any of them want to vote in any of their "corrupt elections"---to support a totally corrupt "Plutocracy" that has been in control since 1776---and this very day? To "vote" would FOR ME to be act of 'surrender'. Even after serving the USA as a US Marine (72-78) I have NEVER voted in any election (except Union)----I was born and am still a "prisoner of war"----and will remain so until "liberated"----either by the eventual compliance BY the "criminal Nation---the USA"---to the "treaties"---ALL OF THEM---or what seems to many to be the final collapse of the criminal nation, the "United States of America" taking place these days; or death leaves my body for the scavengers to dine on. "If the USA were any other criminal nation the 'Americans' would invade the USA to keep the world safe; and they would be justified." Good Luck America, you really need it. Thanks for your time. Husband of Moonlight Comanche/Kiowa/Choctaw (Mississippi) and Scottish; of Clan McGregor thank you.
duwaynesmith's picture
Thanks Steve. Some folks forget that Native people in Arizona and New Mexico could not register to vote until 1948 because they were considered "wards of the government" by officials of both states. Indian military veterans, returning home after WWII, did not accept this situation. Frank Harrison, Yavapai, and others fought for the right to vote, and they won in Maricopa County Superior Court, Arizona, in 1948. Some Native people may decide not to vote. Their right to do so. But they should be reminded that past generations in Indian Country fought for the right, refusing to accept labels such as "wards of the government".