Published September 12, 2008 10:27 am -
'The Cherokee Vote Counts'
By TEDDYE SNELL
TAHLEQUAH DAILY PRESS —
In this historic election year, efforts are under way – both partisan and not –
to get as many people to the polls on Nov. 4 as possible.
To participate, however, a person has to register to vote.
This year, area residents may have noticed a proliferation of red T-shirts
sporting the slogan “The Cherokee Vote Counts,” particularly on Fridays. At the August Tribal Council meeting, attendees received red rubber bracelets with the word “vote” stamped in Cherokee.
The Cherokee Nation has initiated a voter registration program utilizing its
employees to send a message to the citizenry about the importance of political participation.
“Cherokee Nation has a huge voter education effort,” said CN Communications Officer Mike Miller. “We’ve had a drive going for months, since before the primaries that’s been successful. We’re finishing up a voter guide that we will distribute to Cherokee voters all over northeast Oklahoma outlining the candidates and their platforms, which will allow voters to make the decision on which candidate they feel best serves their interests. They’ll have that within the next two to three weeks.”
Miller indicated “The Cherokee Vote Counts” employee campaign is helpful to both Cherokees and non-Cherokees.
“We have other ways, through our employees’ red T-shirts on Fridays, to remind each other and the community about the importance of voting,” he said. “When they go out, either to have dinner or to a ball game or shopping, people see the red shirts and understand that Cherokee Nation is involved in the process. It motivates the whole community and reminds people - Cherokee or not - once a week, that hey, its election season. It’s not just stuff you see on TV but real on a local level with issues that affect us locally.”
Miller said the wristbands bearing the Cherokee word for vote on them have proven popular.
“A lot of people wear them every day,” he said. “They’re kinda cool-looking, and show people’s interest in the political process.”
Tribal councilors generally hold community meetings and use this as an avenue to promote voter registration.
District 9 Councilor Charles Hoskin Jr. of Vinita is planning two meetings – one Sept. 13 and Sept. 27 in Nowata and Craig Counties, respectively – and voter registration will be a topic of discussion and action.
Hoskin believes its important for Cherokees to participate in all elections.
“Cherokees, if we vote our interests as Cherokees, can greatly impact elections,” he said. “We can, for example, send a U.S. senator to Washington who is not hostile or indifferent to tribal sovereignty. We can remind members of the state’s congressional delegation and members of the state Legislature who are our friends that Cherokees speak with a loud and clear voice on election day.”
Hoskin indicated he believes the most important issues citizens should be aware of include whether a candidate understands tribal sovereignty, whether they recognize and support efforts by Indian nations to protect their land, air and water, and whether they support programs that help Cherokees help themselves and help level the economic playing field.
District 7 Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan-Watts said both tribal and state voter registration is available at almost every monthly Rogers County community meetings and events.
“Voters will be able to register at my upcoming annual hog fry on Saturday, Sept. 20, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Will Rogers Memorial,” said Cowan-Watts. “There will be a booth with volunteers assisting folks with forms.”
Cowan-Watts, like many others who are techno-savvy, uses e-mail to stay in touch with voters.
“Personally, I use an e-mail list serv to reach out to my constituents every day concerning tribal, local, state and federal issues,” she said.
“In addition, our community works with candidates on elections and follows up with them once they have been elected. My constituents are learning how to contact elected officials and voice their concerns.”
She believes it’s extremely important not just to register voters at every
opportunity, but to educate them to be engaged and active in elections, issues and government decision-making.