Native American voters in Bismarck-Mandan can take a free limo ride to vote on Election Day, one step a local nonprofit is taking to increase voting among the American Indian population.
The Sacred Pipe Resource Center in Mandan recently received a $10,000 grant from the National Urban Indian Family Coalition in Seattle to increase Native participation in the election.
While efforts are underway on North Dakota Native American reservations to provide tribal members with the proper identification to vote, this initiative focuses on urban Native American voters.
“Voting is one of the mechanisms that we have to improve the lives of Native people, both on and off reservation,” said Cheryl Kary, executive director of the Sacred Pipe Resource Center.
The organization has been going door to door in Bismarck-Mandan to encourage people to vote and answer questions about where to vote or what documentation is needed.
Kary said the voter outreach aims to target voters who may be disenfranchised or low income.
The initiative included a community engagement meeting and a Native voter fair. On Nov. 6, people who sign up can participate in the “Native Vote in Style” event to take a limo ride to the polls.
“What they’re doing is special. It is a big thing to make your voice be heard,” Kary said. "We want to support them in that.”
Janeen Comenote, executive director of the National Urban Indian Family Coalition, said in a statement that it’s particularly important to encourage participation in local elections, where races can be won by a few thousand or few hundred votes.
“In cities with Native populations, each vote is critical and Native people can absolutely make a difference in those elections,” Comenote said.
The grants were made available to urban Indian centers across the U.S. through the support of the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation.
Yvonne Stretches, of Bismarck, who attended a recent community engagement meeting, said she’s glad to see the interest in getting Native Americans to vote.
“I think it’s needed,” Stretches said. “Historically, Natives, we didn’t vote.”
The Sacred Pipe Resource Center is also encouraging people to stay engaged after the election and to do things such as write letters to the editor, sign petitions or participate with community groups.
"We don't want it to end with voting," Kary said. "The other half of the equation is holding your elected leaders accountable."
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Sacred Pipe Resource Center Facebook page.