Indigenous Peoples Day & The Urgency of Voting

By Kendra Kloster & Polly Carr
Art by Sarah Whalen-Lunn>>

Indigenous Peoples Day was established to realize the importance of our identity as an Alaska Native place, and elevate Indigenous ways of life. Right now, we must also elevate the continued and increasing threats posed to Indigenous people, people of color, and women across our state and country. It’s time for advocates and allies to stand up and show up for a more just and sustainable future.

Thousands of Alaskans reached out to our Senators to make their voices heard on the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, including more than 350 women attorneys, many Alaska Native organizations and tribes, and other dedicated individuals.  They took time away from their families and jobs, and flew thousands of miles to share their stories and ask their leaders to do the right thing.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation demonstrates that many elected leaders believe it is okay to demoralize women, silence their voices and ignore their truth.  In addition to allegations of sexual assault, Kavanaugh has a strong record backing corporate interests over subsistence rights, opposing environmental protections because of the perceived costs for corporations to comply, backing voter ID laws that would disenfranchise thousands of communities of color, and stating repeatedly that the affordable care act is not constitutional.

This vote by Congress is a surreal gut-punch and marks a sharp u-turn on our long-fought path to democracy. It took over one hundred years of activism to demand ratification of the Constitution to allow women the right to vote. In Southeast Alaska, the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) and Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS) were established to demand legal rights including citizenship, the right to vote and equal education for Indigenous people who have lived on this land for thousands of years. Their leadership brought voting and citizenship rights in 1924, however, the Legislature passed an English literacy requirement which was adopted in the Alaska Constitution in 1956. It took until 1970 to remove this requirement; due to our history of suppression, a state of emergency was recently declared for the survival of Alaska Native languages.

Our elected and appointed leaders should champion the rights of individuals by ensuring that every voice can be heard and that everyone has access to health care, education, economic opportunity, and the right to hunt and fish on their traditional lands.

Voting is the most powerful tool we have to hold elected leaders accountable. Democracy is meant to function through the will of the people: every citizen has a right to make their voice heard by sponsoring ballot measures, and voting for judges, representatives, senators, and our president.

It is time to manifest this power. We must translate our outrage, fear, and despair into political action, and vote in every election. We must continue to fill the hallways of our Nation and State Capitol to ensure that our land, water, bodies, and way of life are protected.

The good news: more leaders are emerging across the state and showing they will not sit idle anymore. In our recent borough elections, an influx of highly motivated women took the Fairbanks Borough Assembly by storm, and a number of talented, fresh thinking Alaskans were elected to other local offices. We have more women in the state legislature than ever before.

We’ve got to keep pushing. To ensure everyone is represented and heard, we need elected officials that reflect our diverse Alaskan communities, including more women, and more people of color.

This November, we have the chance to vote for leaders and policy that could impact critical issues, like funding for public education, the ability to manage our own bodies, the protection of sustainable resources that our cultures rely upon, and the upholding of traditional ways of life.

On Indigenous Peoples Day, let’s remember the lessons from the people who have been living on this land for thousands of years, and who fought for hundreds more to make their voices heard. Vote to ensure our kids grow up in a culture that respects their identity and way of life, protects their safety and well-being and allows them to live in freedom and harmony with the land. Vote as though your life depends upon it, because it does.

Kendra Kloster is a mother, sister, daughter, grand-daughter, and Executive Director of Native Peoples Action, a non-profit organization with a mission to give voice to Alaska Native peoples and traditional values by taking a stand, working together and mobilizing action. She is Tlingit from Wrangell, Alaska.

Polly Carr is a mother of a 7-year-old daughter, small business owner, and Executive Director of The Alaska Center whose mission is to engage, empower and elect Alaskans to stand up for clean air and water, healthy communities, and a strong democracy. She has lived in Anchorage, Alaska for twenty years.


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