Local Native Americans address election issues

BY ERIC CLARK | OCTOBER 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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While national organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians are pushing their voting advocacy programs among Native Americans in this election, one local organization has not made any organized political effort to encourage voting.

Tyrone Peterson, vice president of the University of Iowa American Indian Students Association — housed in the Latino Native American Cultural Center — said his organization has not necessarily come to a consensus on what issues are most important.

“As far as issues pertaining to the election, I’m not quite sure,” he said. “We’ve got a very diverse population. It’s not like the group gets together and just talks politics.”

However, Peterson said he plans on voting for President Obama because improvement of the health care ranks high on his list of concerns.

“Native Americans have higher disease rates than other populations, so [the Affordable Healthcare Act] is a really good thing for us,” he said.

Kyle Stead, the president of the UI American Indian Student Association, said most of his group favors Obama and his educational policies.

“I’d say the most important issue for us is education, because our organization is a part of the educational structure at the university,” he said.

Stead said the American Indian Student Association doesn’t have any immediate plans to encourage Native Americans to vote, but he has seen promotions from other organizations encouraging them to do so.

The National Congress of American Indians launched its “Every Native Vote Counts” program in early 2012, and the group has made it a priority to make the 2012 voting turnout the largest ever in Indian County, Okla., according to the Native American Times.

The Native American population in Iowa, which the State Data Center of Iowa estimated to be 11,084 in 2010, accounts for less than 1 percent of the state’s population. Roughly 300 were estimated to live in Johnson County.

Among the population are students and faculty from the Meskwaki Settlement School in Tama, Iowa. Many of them visited the UI on Monday and voiced their disapproval of the nationwide celebration of Columbus Day.

“Columbus was the father of slavery and was a major factor in the destruction of early indigenous populations,” said Leah Slick-Driscoll, a history teacher at the Meskwaki Settlement School.

Slick-Driscoll, who is also a UI graduate student, stood along with her students as they held posters that addressed false stereotypes about the Native American population. She said the event, which lasted approximately two hours, was put on in cooperation with American Indian Students Association.

Shiann Decheneaux, a student at the Meskwaki Settlement School, said she and her 20 cohorts from the school came to the UI to help promote the celebration of Indigenous People’s Day, rather than Columbus Day.

Issues such as these, while swept under the rug by many, can play critical roles in elections.
UI Associate Professor of political science Tim Hagle said it is critical for politicians to be aware of matters such as these.

“You’ve got lots of issues that pop up, and politicians would be well off to be aware of them,” he said.
Despite their small population, Hagle said, Native Americans could still have a profound effect on the election.

“It always varies on how close the election is,” he said. “If one particular group moves toward one candidate or the other, it could sway the election.”

Hagle said while the voting trends of Native Americans aren’t as dramatic as they are in other parts of the country, they will be very important to the upcoming election.

“In Iowa, it’s not as big of an issue as it is in other states,” he said. “But if one group has a low turnout, then it could have more of an effect on a close election. And in Iowa, it looks like it’s going to be very close.”

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