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article imageNative Americans - From voting rights to Congress

By Karen Graham     Nov 12, 2019 in Politics
Native American tribes and nations occupied this land for thousands of years before Europeans reached these shores, however, the U.S. government did not grant them citizenship or Native American women the right to vote until 1924.
Before white men stepped ashore in what is now America in the early 1600s, indigenous tribes and nations had lived on this land for 10,000 or more years. However, they were not recognized legally in this country until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 became law.
Interestingly, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Adopted on July 9, 1868, defines as citizens any persons born in the U.S. and subject to its jurisdiction, however, the amendment was interpreted to not apply to Native people. We were their "guardians," or "keepers."
The 14th amendment addressed citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War.
But it was the Civil Rights Act of 1866, enacted April 9, 1866, that was the first United States federal law to define citizenship.
President Calvin Coolidge with four Osage Indians after Coolidge signed the bill granting Indians fu...
President Calvin Coolidge with four Osage Indians after Coolidge signed the bill granting Indians full citizenship.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Reproduction Number: — LOC, LC-USZ62-111409 D
One part of the Civil Rights Act has been enshrined and enforced - according to the United States Code, clear up until today: "All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other."
Even with this 1866 law spelling out quite clearly who was considered a citizen in this country, Native Americans still had problems gaining their rights. An Indian had to marry a white or be "taxed, serve in the armed forces, or accept land allotments, such as those granted under the Dawes Act
The 1924 Indian Citizenship act ended up allowing about 125,000 of 300,000 indigenous people in the United States to become citizens. Yet, even those indigenous people granted citizenship under the Citizenship Act may not have had full citizenship and suffrage rights until 1948. According to a survey by the Department of Interior, seven states still refused to grant Indians voting rights in 1938.
U.S. Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels  the first African-American in the Congress.
U.S. Senator Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African-American in the Congress.
Library of Congress description: "Hiram R. Revels of Miss."
Believe it or not, but it took until 1947 before all states with Native American populations extended voting rights to them. Two states held out until 1948 - Arizona and New Mexico - but then were beaten down by a judicial decision.
Native Americans in the Halls of Congress
Native Americans have served both in the Senate and House of Representatives. The first being Hiram Rhodes Revels, born in 1837. He was a Republican U.S. Senator, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a college administrator. Born free in North Carolina, he later lived and worked in Ohio, where he voted before the Civil War.
Official portrait of Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-KS03)
Date: 14 January 2019
Official portrait of Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-KS03) Date: 14 January 2019
Kristie Boyd; U.S. House Office of Photography
His parents were of African, European, and Native American (Lumbee Tribe) ancestry. His mother was also specifically of Scottish descent. His father was a Baptist preacher. After serving in the Senate, Revels was appointed as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University) and served from 1871 to 1873 and 1876 to 1882.
There are currently four Native Americans serving in the U.S. House of Representatives: Tom Cole (Chickasaw, R-Oklahoma), Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk, D-Kansas), Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico) and Markwaybe Mullin (Cherokee, R-Oklahoma).
And in May 2020, a special election is coming up in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, where Tricia Zunker, Ho-Chunk, is vying to be the 5th Native American Congressperson. If she wins, she will be the second Ho-Chunk and third Native American woman in Congress.
Portrait of US Rep Deb Haaland - U.S. Representative from New Mexico s 1st congressional district.
Portrait of US Rep Deb Haaland - U.S. Representative from New Mexico's 1st congressional district.
U.S. House Office of Photography
There has been a recent shift in political activism with Native Americans, yet plenty of challenges remain, including voter disenfranchisement. This occurs when states pass laws that say you can’t vote without a street address or register to vote using a P.O. box as your address. And in some Native American communities, this can hurt voter turnout.
“Lots of folks think about voter disenfranchisement as a black-white issue. It is an important Jim Crow-era issue. We should be mindful of it,” notes Bryan Brayboy, special advisor on American Indian Initiatives at Arizona State University and enrolled member of the Lumbee tribe. “What often gets buried is what happens with Native votes.
More about Native american, Women, right to shoot illegal voters, 1924, Congress
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