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The Native Youth Vote: You Count!

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Written by We R Native blog author: 
Constance Owl, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina.

Like many high school seniors this time of year I find myself nervously checking the mailbox each day for that important college acceptance or denial letters. Just the other day I received my first voter registration card. While many Native youth see reaching voting age as a rite of passage, others allow this important privilege of tribal membership to pass quietly by. Native youth between the ages of 18 and 24 make up a strong and powerful voting force that is often overlooked by tribal politicians in favor of the older, more vocal voter. Many important tribal policies affecting this age demographic are often decided without the influence of the eligible voter it most often impacts. While it is easy to feel that youth have little influence in tribal politics, with organization, education, and empowerment, Native youth can become a formidable force in the future of their tribes through political participation and activism. Actions taken now can assist in moving tribal communities forward for a better future for the upcoming generation, a generation that will hold important tribal positions of influence in future years. We have the responsibility to be well versed on the needs of our tribal communities and to be involved in the future course of our tribal governments.

Just how powerful is our Native youth voter demographic? Although figures are difficult to find, it can be generally assumed that many potential young Native voters fail to register in order to participate in tribal elections and policy initiatives. The future is certain to hold movement on important issues such as education, investment, gaming, sovereignty, land rights, and resources that will have far-reaching impacts on the future of Indian Country. Waiting to get involved until an issue becomes a hot debate may be waiting too late for real action. Young voters must become involved and proactive in the early phases of these important tribal issues in order to manifest positive results for their tribes’ future. As more and more youth are acquiring higher education and real-world experience, our tribes can benefit greatly from our enthusiasm and passion for positive change. While respecting our elders, we must step proudly into our roles as adult tribal members capable of contributing our skills, experience, and knowledge for the betterment of our tribal communities.

As I began this series of blogs on Native youth voting, I was approaching the eligible age for tribal voting participation. I want to become an informed and educated voter who will affect positive change through my future vote. I hope to encourage other young Natives to become an organized demographic that will garner the respect and attention of tribal politicians. I plan to organize debates, a “meeting of the candidates”, and form discussion groups on important issues facing our demographic so that we may become enlightened participants in the process of tribal government. Join me on this journey and share your ideas on becoming a powerful voting force in your own Native community.