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Ahead of midterm elections, Wisconsin Native Vote works to increase voter participation in tribal communities

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Native American voter turnout was exceptionally high in Wisconsin in 2020 — up 18 percent in Mole Lake and 28 percent in Red Cliff.

One organization is working to make sure those numbers stay high this election cycle.

The nonpartisan group Wisconsin Native Vote is knocking on doors, registering voters and arranging carpools to the polls in the final week before the midterm election.

“Wisconsin Native Vote’s mission is to work with tribal communities to advance voter turnout and to combat the issue of disenfranchisement of tribal voters,” says Dee Sweet, Wisconsin Native Vote’s manager and a member of Ojibwe Nation.

Sweet says Native American voter turnout has historically been low, and she attributes that partially to a long history of tension between tribes and the federal government.

But now, she says voting is an essential way for indigenous people to make their concerns and priorities heard.

“When you do not vote, it’s not an act of resistance on your part. Actually, it’s an act of surrender,” she says. “We don’t want to turn our backs on this important opportunity to have our voices heard.”

After talking with potential voters, Sweet says several issues come up over and over again in tribal communities.

“There’s a concern for the quality of health service, particularly for our veterans and our elders,” she says. “There’s also a concern for proper education for our children in the public school system. But most notably, there is a degree of concern for the opioid crisis that is just ravaging our rural communities.”

She says those are the concerns that should motivate Wisconsin’s indigenous people to turn out to the polls. They’re the same reasons why Wisconsin Native Vote continues working to make sure Native American voices are heard.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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