Looking toward 2016

Even before this month’s 2014 mid-term elections were over, politicians and the news media were talking about the 2016 presidential race.

So was I. But my focus wasn’t on the presidential hopefuls. It was on how crucial it is for Native American groups to partner together to educate Native voters about what’s at stake for their communities in the 2016 elections.

Judging by voter turnout of Native people in some key states on Nov. 4, it’s apparent that a greater push is necessary to build on some of the small but encouraging gains in the number of Native American voters.

Of course voter turnout traditionally is low in mid-term elections. This year, it was the lowest it has been in 72 years. Still, the Native vote made a difference in some races, including South Dakota, where four Native American candidates won their bids for seats in the state Legislature. Voters in Shannon County successfully changed the name of Shannon County to Oglala Lakota County.

The National Congress of American Indians held a webinar on Nov. 6 in which the Native vote was discussed, along with wins for Native candidates in some key state races. NCAI reported that five Native lawmakers in Alaska were re-elected to that state’s Legislature. In Arizona, four were re-elected and one lost. In Oklahoma, 12 were re-elected, one lost and eight were outgoing.

It’s great to see NCAI pushing for greater voter participation in Indian Country through its Native Vote initiative. The organization also offered community grants for voter outreach and civic engagement.

But a more strategic push involving a wide range of partners needs to happen for Native voters to become educated about the next presidential race, and how the outcome has the potential to impact their communities.

At the 2014 National Native Media conference, I challenged Native journalists to cover the 2016 presidential race through the eyes of Native America. This can be done through news coverage of Native communities and in-depth stories about how the candidates’ political platforms would affect tribes, Native families and individuals.

I talk about this idea in the last four minutes of the video below, starting at 33:36. I have turned over this idea to the Native American Journalists Association so that this nonprofit organization can find funding for it.

I hope NAJA pursues it. Before you know it, the 2016 presidential race will dominate news media coverage.

In the final four minutes of this video presentation, I talk about how the 2016 presidential race should be covered from a Native perspective. It was part of NAJA Talks, in which four Native journalists talk about issues that impact Native people.

 Follow me on Twitter @karenmichel.

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