Published January 25, 2016
The year 2016 is important for federal and state elections. We will elect a new president, and we will decide on the state and local leaders who shape the policy and direction of Oklahoma and our communities. To better engage our Cherokee Nation citizens, we are putting a renewed emphasis on Project 320K to increase voter engagement and participation across the tribe’s 14 counties and beyond in the coming year.
Through Project 320K, we will be more visible and active at community gatherings, both locally and at our at-large picnics, in 2016. We call the initiative “320K,” because that’s about how many enrolled Cherokee Nation citizens there are across the world at the moment.
In seems every two years we talk about the need to be more active at the polls. We continue to raise this conversation because so many are still unregistered or do not cast a vote. For our tribe and for Native people nationwide, that represents untapped political power.
We know it’s harder in Native communities to do this work, but it is critical. We also know it takes time, money and people to register voters in Native communities, and for too long we’ve relied on candidates or political parties to do that work for us. They don’t do as well as we can for our own people.
While we have been successful with “320K” since its inception three years ago, we know we can do more. Since 2013, we have registered more than 3,800 Cherokees for tribal elections and almost 1,200 for state and federal elections.
Now we need to activate those votes at the polls. Beyond registering, we need people to cast votes and be active. One of our primary goals in 2016 is to engage people through “Get Out The Vote” efforts. Historically, we have seen Cherokee voters participate in either the tribal level or the state and federal level, but too often not in both. What happens in Washington, D.C. and the state capitol has a direct bearing on the Cherokee Nation in countless ways. If tribal citizens in Oklahoma would vote in state and federal elections, we would suddenly have a much stronger influence on the decisions that affect our daily lives.
Sadly, in 2014, less than 30 percent of Oklahoma’s eligible voters went to the polls. We can and we must do better than that. As the home of 39 tribal governments, Oklahoma has a high number of tribal citizens in public office, including the only two Natives in the U.S. Congress. We should make it a priority to support candidates that understand our tribal issues and sovereign rights as Indian people and tribal governments.
Through Project 320K, we encourage parents to teach the power of voting by taking their children to the polls with them. We hope voting will become a family activity, so Cherokee children learn the process and know that, no matter where they are, they will always have a voice and a vote in their government.
I believe we honor our Cherokee democracy by voting. It’s important to be an advocate for change and be involved with the political process within the community, the state and the country.
We have untapped power as a voting bloc, and 2016 is the moment to harness that power. I hope you will consider volunteering with Project 320K and get your family and friends registered to vote. Contact Cohle Fowler for more information at [email protected] or (918) 506-8963.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
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