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Prairie Rose Seminole, Fargo, Published October 20 2012

Letter: End cycle of apathy by voting

I’m a voter. It wasn’t expected that my life would lead down this path. It could happen to you.

I’m not a typical voter. I am a native voter, and that makes me special. Exactly how special, no one knows; the Census Bureau doesn’t track the native vote nor does the North Dakota secretary of state. I don’t know of any state or national office that tracks how significant our vote really is.

I’ve been told campaigns don’t have the resources to engage me or my community. I believe that is indicative of a larger issue: A systemic acceptance that our vote doesn’t make a difference. Historically, we could perceive that’s based on actions of elected officials, the realities we face in our communities, and tendency for little or no resources of government, candidate or party voter outreach to be allocated to the native vote. I reject the idea that our vote isn’t worth the effort to speak to our community.

Politics of apathy

These are politics of apathy, initiated by those who we didn’t matter to, who didn’t seek our vote, which we then internalized and started to believe our votes didn’t matter. This, in turn, led to our being the population in the United States with the lowest voter turnout of any ethnic group.

In truth, our vote has made a difference. Ask any Democrat seeking state or federal positions. We have made the difference in North Dakota for decades. For our neighbors in Montana, Minnesota and South Dakota, the native vote has been instrumental in electing leaders, people who make decisions on our behalf.

Why does this matter? Because we are the most legislated people in the country; decisions are being made that affect our quality of life. If people are making decisions for us, shouldn’t we have a seat at the table? I vote because we need a champion at the table who reflects our values.

Change our reality

Our identities are at risk. We fall victims to the politics of apathy. There are no opportunities for us when no one cares about us. When we don’t care about our realities, we don’t see the opportunities for us to break the cycle of apathy and all that comes with it. Are we ignorant to the fact that there is suffering, abuse, degradation and marginalization happening in our communities? No – we live this fight every day. Who we elect matters.

We need to talk about our reality to change it. We must engage in the system that rules over us and integrate into our lives the understanding that our actions, our beliefs are shaping the community we live in. When we become engaged in the process that rules us, this process of democracy, we can shape the community we live in.

Identity is important. It is our story, and we should own our story.

There is power in identity. When we start to understand that, we create our identity through our commitments and our actions. We create the kind of identity where we can say to the world that we can be the ones to make our future.

So, I am a voter. I vote because I want leaders who reflect my values, who will champion the causes I believe in, who will fight for opportunities for our people to be successful. Leaders who have brought us to the table to talk with us about what is important in our community and who have put in the work to earn our vote.

I do this work because the decisions that our politicians are making affect our daily lives. Whether it’s the food our kids are eating in school, the roads we drive on, the programs that feed and serve our elderly and veterans, the water we drink or the environment we live in. These things matter. For natives, our vote isn’t as much political as it is personal. All of these things are personal to how we want to live, how we want our children to live and with what opportunities.

Human dignity

I’ve learned simple things doing the work that I do. I’ve come to understand and to believe that we are more than the expectations of others. We are more than a descriptor. I am Northern Cheyenne and Arikara. I am German-Russian, and I am poor. I am a voter, but that is not all that I am. That is not all of who I am. I understand that there is human dignity within all people that must be respected. I also believe that in our community, our state, this country and the whole world that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Justice comes from the process, the system that rules over us. I vote because we must be a part of this process.

I am part of a political movement that believes our ideas can spread across the country. I vote to honor the spirit of those who came before and fought for us to have this right. I believe that by breaking the cycle of apathy, we can ensure generations to come will have a good life in the land our Creator has given us.

Now is the time for our movement to be strengthened for generations to come. Get out and vote. It makes a difference.


Prairie Rose Seminole is director, North Dakota’s Native Vote, and past chairwoman, Fargo Human Relations Commission.