(AP) – The head of the largest group representing Native Americans and Alaska Natives said federal and state governments should provide voter registration at Indian Health Service facilities.
Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press that the health facilities should be designated voter registration sites in the same way state-based public assistance agencies are under the National Voter Registration Act. He said the facilities are ideal for voter registration because they’re in many tribal communities.
“Not all Native Americans are registered, and that’s one of the things we are pushing for this year is to turn out the largest Native vote in history,” Keel said.
Indian Health Service spokeswoman Dianne Dawson, reached late Tuesday evening, said the agency had no comment at this time.
Only two of every five American Indians and Alaska Natives who are eligible to vote were registered in 2008, Keel told a gathering of tribal leaders Monday at the opening of the midyear meeting of the National Congress of American Indians in Lincoln, Neb. He said an estimated 1 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives who are eligible to vote are not registered.
“This should be considered a civic emergency,” Keel said.
Keel said the voter registration and turnout work is not intended to be partisan, but American Indians have made significant gains under the current administration and tribes want to protect their resources and sovereignty.
“Many of these politicians believe the Indian bloc is so small, the number of Indian voters is so small, and it’s of no significance,” Keel said. “But it’s not so small if they look at the resources Indian Country has,” including natural gas, coal and minerals.
In addition, better turnout of Native Americans can make a difference in state elections where many issues affecting tribes also are decided, he said.