“Voting is how we make a difference in the United States and in our own states,” NCAI President Joe Garcia said.
Garcia, whose American Indian name is Mark of the Misty Lake, spoke about the importance of getting involved in your community and voting.
American Indians from Washington, South Dakota and New Mexico were among those in attendance.
NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Johnson introduced Garcia at Monday afternoon's conference, but only after sharing the encouraging statistics that the NCAI has accomplished since 1998 as part of the group’s grassroots campaign.
Johnson explained that as American Indians, they have the ability to influence the vote in states that have a high concentration of American Indian populations. Johnson said that since 1998, the NCAI has been able to influence voting that has resulted in record appointments in the U.S. Senate, state legislatures and city councils.
“Attention is being paid to us,” Johnson said. “But we need a presence — longterm.”
Johnson said that as part of the NCAI and Native Vote campaigns, there are training programs in more than 20 states to help American Indians start grassroots movements.
“We are developing infrastructure to get out the native vote ourselves,” Johnson said. “What are the key issues? What are the key states and where can we influence the vote?”
Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, expressed the need not only for people to get involved with voting movements within their community, but as a nation, people need to get involved.
“This is the prime time for Native Americans to get involved in voting,” Melendez said. “We need to make sure we have our voices heard and make sure the change is good for us.”
Melendez explained that change isn’t necessarily good unless the change helps the American Indian population as well as the general population.
Issues the NCAI is hoping will be addressed, and possibly changed, during the next president’s administration include the protection and services for American Indian families, promotion and support of American Indian education and the enhancement of American Indian health care programs.
In addtion, the NCAI wanted to make sure the need for the youth vote is covered. This includes registering new voters and educating voters on the important issues.
Actor Eddie Spears spoke to the group of more than 30 people. Spears played the main character of Black Cloud in the 2005 movie “Black Cloud” and played Chasing Crane in 2007’s “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.”
Spears challenged the American Indian youth to get involved in their communities and know the important issues.
“For the native youth, this is one of the most important elections,” Spears said.
Even though the importance of voting was driven home by the numerous speakers at Monday’s conference, the powerful significance of voting was demonstrated by five Native Vote Washington initiative volunteers.
In a single file line, the five members were dressed in matching white T-shirts with the large blue logo “Native Vote WA” pressed on the front. Their eyes gazed at the floor and from right to left, one by one, each member stared at the audince and recited their memorized lines in their native language then in English.
“I vote to honor the four legged ones...I vote to honor my kids who are too young to vote...I vote to honor the veterans...I vote to honor my grandmother...I vote to honor (Indian political activist) Billy Frank."
“We vote to educate, activate and empower.”
The group’s message was chilling and silenced the room that was previously buzzing with excitement about the upcoming elections.
It became apparent that voting is more than a vote for a candidate, but that voting is an individual's way of expressing their ideals, traditions and most of all political needs.
“This is the first election where we can elect a black president, a female president or a bonefide American hero,” Garcia said. “However you have to do it, get people to the polls.”
As one last reminder before leaving the podium, Native Vote Washington member Matthew Tomaskin counted down the days until the elections — 154 to be exact.
For more information on the non-profit, non-partisan NCAI and how to get involved, visit www.ncai.org.