Our Vote as Our Voice: Rocking the Native Vote in Michigan
With elections on the horizon, Indigenous groups in Michigan are educating native communities about how they can make their voices heard to make greater impact in their lives.
The Rock the Native Vote campaign is helping to improve access to the ballot, while building awareness about how voting can make changes in native communities.
Meredith Kennedy, director and founder of Miigwech Inc., explained the full right to vote for Indigenous people did not occur until just 40 years ago in 1982, and she shared her people still face many other challenges.
"Our voting place is right next to US 31, a super busy highway. It's not safe," Kennedy pointed out. "Our communities don't have running water. I have elders who are houseless and homeless, on their own lands. Until we as Indigenous people start using our vote as part of our voice, we are not going to see change."
One federally recognized tribe, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa, has 3,800 people of voting age. About 2,600 live in Michigan, including about 800 who are not registered to vote. It means there is the potential for roughly one-third of the tribe's citizens to vote in Michigan.
Rock the Native Vote encourages Indigenous Michiganders to register to vote, and make a plan to vote. Kennedy explained through community building efforts, Native people are voting both in their own sovereign nation elections, and then also the greater election. She noted people like Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Brian Newland are making a difference.
"Indigenous issues are being brought forward by the people who are also Native," Kennedy emphasized. "Who are saying, 'Hey, we're gonna do a boarding school report.' And then renaming state parks and monuments that are derogatory towards Native people, that is huge!"
In 2021, the U.S. Census identified more than 60,000 people who identify as Native American in Michigan and more than a quarter million identifying as Indigenous and another race.