Linda Yardley is a long time voter advocate from the Taos Pueblo. She testified Friday at a hearing of the Native American Voter Alliance at the Pueblo of Isleta.
The Native American Voting Rights Coalition has been holding hearings across the country since last September to document the challenges faced by Native American voters. Witnesses include tribal leaders, advocates, and voters. Barriers to equal voting rights have been documented such as “unreasonably long distances to polls and inability to access transportation keep Natives from voting.”
Why should Native Americans vote? Linda Yardley from Taos Pueblo had one answer at a field hearing of the Native American Voting Rights Coalition Friday.
This is Trahant Reports.
Yardley told the story of Taos Pueblo and its century-long fight to have the United States return its sacred Blue Lake. The land had been taken by the U.S. Forest Service in 1906 and a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (and therefore head of the Forest Service), Clinton P. Anderson, was by the late 1960s a U.S. Senator from New Mexico.
Yardley said he told our tribal leaders: “I’ll be dead before you ever get your land back.”
And that was their U.S. Senator. The Pueblo eventually won, when President Richard Nixon agreed to return Blue Lake.
But. as Yardley testified, “If our people had been voters, registered voters, Clinton Anderson probably would not have had the ability to say that. This is why it’s so important for me personally because I don’t want our people to go through the hardship that we did to secure our tribal lands, our sacred lands back to us.”
The Native American Voting Rights Coalition has been holding hearings across the country since last September to document the challenges faced by Native American voters. Witnesses include tribal leaders, advocates, and voters.
In earlier hearings, witnesses documented the persistent suppression of the Native vote in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. This included a number of barriers to equal voting rights including “unreasonably long distances to polls and inability to access transportation keep Natives from voting.”
Other documented hurdles:
- Dismal conditions at reservation voting polling locations, one of which included a dirt floor chicken coop that did not have restrooms.
- Restrictions on the number of voter registrations that one can submit to the county clerk’s office, requiring repeated trips to the office.
- County employees chastising organizers submitting voter registrations for being a “nuisance” and “making more work” for the county office by submitting Native American registrations.
- Being turned away at the polls because a tribal identification card did not include a street address.
Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, is now running for the U.S. Congress to represent Albuquerque, and has worked on voting rights issues in New Mexico for many years. She recalled a Saturday morning visit to a home in San Felipe Pueblo in 2008 where she registered seven people to vote. She said the last person to register was a man, probably in his mid 50s, “stood up, shook my hand, and said, ‘thank you so much, I have always wanted to vote but I never knew how.’ If that does make you feel like we have a lot of work to do in New Mexico, I don’t know what will.”
I am Mark Trahant.