Julie Garreau, director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project, in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, encourages tribal members to get to the polls and cast ballots in a new video where the message is “Our Land, Our Voice, Our Vote.”

New Voter-Engagement Video From Julie Garreau Looks to Encourage the Native Vote

Stephanie Woodard

An affecting new video by Julie Garreau, director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project, in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, encourages tribal members to get to the polls and cast ballots. A collaboration that was shot and edited after work, on nights and weekends, with videographer Chris “Mo” Hollis, the 2-minute movie has a sense of urgency.

Currently voter turnout at Cheyenne River is low—12 to 18 percent according to Scott Davis, one of 13 tribal members, including Garreau, who appear onscreen. That means politicians can afford to ignore Native people, according to Chase Iron Eyes, another speaker.

Several who appear in the video link voting and sovereignty: Dr. Jim Garrett admonishes viewers that Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is a sovereign nation and needs to act that way. Lorraine Davis says, “This is our land. Own up to it. Take it back. The first step is voting.” Others who appear, like Denise Lightning Fire, Hazel Red Bird, Marcella LeBeau and Tammy Granados talk about making the world a better place for the generations to come.

“This film has its hand on the pulse of Indian country. You have areas with high Native American populations but low turnout,” commented O.J. Semans, Sicangu Lakota, head of voting-rights group Four Directions, headquartered on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. “If you don’t vote, politicians don’t have to listen to you. That’s not what you want. You want them to feel beholden to you when you send your leaders to negotiate with them. You want them to know who you are and honor the treaties.”

“People say Indians are apathetic about voting. But that’s not true,” added Garreau. “Instead, many of us feel county, state and federal governments are not really ‘ours,’ the way tribal government is. So we tend to vote only in tribal elections.” In the movie, Garreau made clear that all these governments affect the lives of Native people, who therefore need to participate in more than tribal elections.

The video and its message are not just for the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation or even just for Lakotas, according to Semans: “The movie makes sense on any Northern Plains reservation. Native communities in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and, to some extent Colorado, are in constant contact and dealing with similar issues. In fact, I’ll be showing the video at an upcoming tribal chairman’s meeting in Montana.”

Garreau will show the movie in community meetings around Cheyenne River and will create voter-engagement brochures to go with it. She noted that it’s a non-partisan message: “It’s not about voting a particular way. It’s about becoming an informed, engaged electorate. It’s about being empowered.”

She also said there’s work to be done to facilitate voting on Cheyenne River. It’s not yet clear that during this presidential-election year, reservation villages will have the same amount of early voting as the rest of South Dakota. “That’s not just an Indian issue,” she said. “Insufficient numbers of polling stations affect any thinly spread rural population.” There’s also local concern that holding tribal and national elections simultaneously, which occurs without a hitch on other reservations, will somehow be confusing on Cheyenne River.

Maida LeBeau makes sure viewers understand that voting may be a facet of mainstream culture, but Native people can make it their own. “It’s Lakota medicine—for change,” she says in the movie’s final moments.

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rezzdog's picture
Submitted by rezzdog on
With our Tribal Leaders encouraging us to act like Americans, and now, our youth are following suit, not only has cultural assimilation been a success, it is now followed up by our Political Assimilation. With representation, comes taxation. Next, homelands assimilation into the American's dream.

husbandofmoonlight's picture
Submitted by husbandofmoonlight on
Each time a Native American who is a member of any tribe votes in any election of the "Occupying Nation" (the criminal government of the USA) they 'join the Occupying Nation' with that "vote"--------and when they do that they "vote" for the eventual 'extinction of their own tribe'--and the tribe that actually belongs to their children's children's children----the "future". It really is that simple folks. Native Americans are currently 'prisoners of war'---in their own homelands; the USA's constitution (actually a 'document of convenience' as US history reveals)clearly states in Article 6; "All treaties are Supreme Law". If the "treaty" does not "mention it"----"it" is not applicable to the Native Americans. Being one who descends from a signatory of the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty (ratified in 1868) I have a copy of that treaty on the wall of my office; it is very simply worded----and does not mention "voting" ------along with many other things it does not mention that the US Government insists upon applying to the tribes who signed it; although that "insistence" is illegal. When the USA could NOT defeat the tribes in their wars of aggression; they brought "treaties of peace"----which they never intended to observe; and when the 'smoke cleared'--and those tribes "disarmed"---the US Government immediately began to dissolve or simply ingnore those treaty obligations they incurred; and they still do at this writing. As a result, the USA is illegally in possession of more than 60% of its geographic territory----and 'owe' trillions of their dollars (w/interest) for all of the wealth they have extracted (illegally) from those territories. In short----------------------"All Native Amnericans are Prisoners of War of the USA"----voting in ANY of their elections is absurd. But do not be discouraged; the USA is presently exhibiting ALL of the classic signs of collapse--indeed they make the Romans look like "scabs on a dogs tail" in comparison to their illegal activities of a criminal enterprise/nation; all over the planet. They are doomed to failure. Native America on the other hand has been here on this continent for no less than 15K years----these "Americans" and their 'criminal government' are simply a "mark on the wall of OUR evolution"---------------we will be here (if we choose to anyway) long after the Americans are a 'terrible memory' and a negative lesson to humanity. WE can choose "solidarity"---or choose 'defeat' by "joining them". I DO NOT VOTE----even though I earned that right through service as a US Marine (1972-78) and if I had been born in any other part of the planet; would have earned "citizenship". Instead I earned the "right to walk around in the Whitemans's world"---"legally"---. For "Me" to vote in any of their absurd elections would be a mockery of my ancestor's sacrifices of blood---and a mockery of their "victory"; since the USA does NOT bring "peace treaties" to those they can "defeat"; they "make peace"----then 'break peace'. The USA is a 'criminal nation' and doomed to failure; voting in their elections would be "joining them" in their 'failure'. Thanks for your time. HusbandofMoonlight Comanche,Kiowa,Choctaw (Mississippi) and Scottish (of Clan McGregor thank you)