Who’s the banana republic now?
That’s the question asked in a Colombian newspaper this month, as that country, like the rest of the world, watched the U.S. elections. Donald Trump lost both the popular vote and the Electoral College vote. That would usually mean a transition to a new president.
Instead, “What we have seen in the last week from the president more closely resembles the tactics of the kind of authoritarian leaders we follow,” Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, which tracks democracy, told The New York Times. “I never would have imagined seeing something like this in America.”
The political crisis puts America in the league of questionable democracies worldwide.
Examples: Ruling parties in Zimbabwe reversed true election results in 2002. Iran did the same in 2009. Venezuela is a mess, and the recent Bolivian elections and removal of democratically elected Evo Morales tell a more recent story foreign influence and corruption. America seems to be no different. Russians, Canadian multinationals and politicians should not steal elections.
In the meantime, something else is happening. That’s to say, despite voter suppression, armed white terrorists attempting to thwart voters, endless lines and very remote polling places, this election changed our world. And it turns out that Native voters helped put President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris into office, providing the votes in the key states of Arizona and Wisconsin.
Our votes, although not large, are strategic. The question is how will that show up in Minnesota over the next two election cycles?
Get Out the Vote work on Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth reservations stirred up some new voters, thousands of them. Red Lake Nation started its drive on Oct. 4, training a team who would travel by car, foot or bicycle. There was an expectation to register two voters an hour, and personal protective equipment was provided.
A friendly competition meant more voters. According to Doreen Wells, 40-50 canvassers went out and registered people, most from 18-45, driving into the treaty territories of Thief River Falls, Bemidji and beyond. Then there was the bus to Bemidjigamaag. The first bus left the Red Lake Nation, with 12 Red Lakers from 25 to 72, who were first-time voters in a nontribal election. That’s how the vote was rocked. Leech Lake had series of virtual Get Out the Vote events, and White Earth organizers drove people to the polls before and on election day.
Here’s how it works. Take the village of Pine Point, 320 tribal members live in that village, between housing projects and private homes. There are about 420 people in the whole township, but the polling place is nowhere near the village — in fact, it’s in the middle of a snow bank in the Ponsford Prairie, in the heart of Trump country, with reputedly Republican poll watchers. Despite that, voters turned out, driving to town, casting absentee ballots and boarding the White Earth Council of Elders bus to take a ride to the polls.
Tipping the vote
Wisconsin, a closely watched state in the election, went for Biden by fewer than 21,000 votes in the initial count. When the votes came in from the Bad River, Red Cliff, Menominee and other reservations, things changed. Native people represent about 90,000 tribal members, and Menominee County, which overlaps the Menominee Tribe’s reservation, voted for Biden 82%, compared to the state as a whole at 49.4%.
Arizona was clearly turned by the Native vote. Despite Arizona’s conservatism, the Navajo Nation and Tohono O’odham Nation, which spans Pima and Maricopa counties, were above 90% for Biden, according to ABC News. With good reason.
The Navajo Nation has sued the Trump administration for botching the COVID Relief Program, costing Navajo lives. At one point in May, the Navajo Nation had the highest ratio of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., surpassing New York City. The Navajo Nation joined other tribal nations in a lawsuit over fund dispersal. They did not. Indigenous voters favored Biden overall in Arizona. They also showed the pandemic response to be the most important issue on their minds. The Tohono O’odham have been opposing the border wall which cuts through the heart of their territory, and has brought more deaths and conflict.
Tribal voters have long been discounted, and perhaps never as prominently as at the recent CNN election night reporting which categorized voters into white, Black, Hispanic, Latino and "something else." Something else counts. In Minnesota, Biden won, but in the Deep North, Trump ruled.
An example: Overall Clearwater County voted 71% in favor of Donald Trump, while Rice Lake village voted 72.5% for Joe Biden. In Mahnomen County, Naytauwash voted 75% for Biden, while non-Native voters narrowly secured a Mahnomen County victory for Trump of 49% versus 48%. In Pine Point, Native voters secured 55% of the vote for Biden, while most non-Native voters turned out for Trump. Red Lake was a more unified (because they control their land) and delivered 2167 votes to Joe Biden. You’re welcome Joe.
Minnesota elected more Native people this year than in any previous election: Audrey Thayer to the Bemidji City Council; Tim Sumner on the Beltrami County Commission; Lyz Jaakola on the Cloquet City Council; and Mary Kunesh-Podein and Heather Keeler in the state Legislature. More will come.
It’s time for a multi-racial democracy. This election delivers that. It’s just the beginning.
Winona LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation. She is also owner of Winona's Hemp and a regular contributor to Forum News Service.