What’s at Stake

Native American Voters Deserve to Have Their Voices Heard

Indigenous women and their communities want their say in the 2020 election

Donna M. Owens
Published in
6 min readSep 23, 2020


Indigenous woman wearing face mask at a protest in July.
Indigenous protesters and supporters gather at the Black Hills, now the site of Mount Rushmore, on July 3, 2020 in Keystone, South Dakota. Photo: Micah Garen/Getty Images

ZORA has delved into what’s at stake in this election cycle with an important series about women of color and the vote. We sought the insight of political activists, advocacy groups, lawmakers, and community stakeholders. Read on for insight into a voting bloc that may impact not just the next election, but America’s future course. Keep an eye on What’s at Stake all week long.

When Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids made history in 2018 as the first Native American women ever elected to Congress, it symbolized the collective journey of Indigenous people who’ve lived on these lands for millennia. Rep. Haaland represents New Mexico and is an enrolled citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna. Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, represents Kansas. Now the congresswomen are raising their voices in tandem with fellow lawmakers, advocates, and community leaders to urge Indian Country to participate in the November general election.

“Voting is sacred,” said Rep. Haaland during a televised speech at the Democratic National Convention in August. Davids, appearing on a video call with fellow convention vice chairs, termed the 2020 presidential race “the most consequential election of our lifetimes.”

Indeed, much is at stake for the nearly 6 million people — about 2% of the population — who identify as American Indian or Alaska Natives, per the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey. The Bureau of Indian Affairs lists 574 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages. Additionally, dozens of state-recognized tribes exist across the country. Each has its own culture, traditions, language, music, and ceremonies, passed down through generations by elders.

For tribal nations that have long been recognized by the federal government as sovereign, its members are citizens of three groups: their own tribe, the state where they reside, and the United States.

Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians explained this unique, political relationship at the annual State of Indian Nations