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American Indian Access to Voting and Civic Engagement

American Indians in Minnesota have faced similar barriers to voting and participation in the political process as Native people nationwide. American Indians are still fighting for recognition of their sovereign lands and nations, and for economic justice and equal representation in all levels of United States government.

Setting the Stage

As of the 2010 U.S. census, over 5 million people identify as American Indian or Alaska Native  refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment (AIAN) nationwide. In Minnesota, nearly 102,000 people identify as AIAN, and of those, 35,000 are eligible to vote.

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was signed into law in 1965 after decades of African American activism through the Civil Rights Movement. The VRA was focused on the rights of Black Americans, but unfortunately American Indians were often considered outside of the Act’s scope. This would change with amendments to the VRA in 1972 and in 1975.

Minnesota Indigenous Population

Minnesota is the traditional homeland of the Dakota and Ojibwe. Today there are 14 reservations within Minnesota: 11 Ojibwe reservations scattered across northern Minnesota including Bois Fort, Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, Red Lake and White Earth, and four Dakota reservation communities in the southern portion of the state including those at Shakopee and Prairie Island as well as the Upper Sioux in Granite Falls and the Lower Sioux in Redwood County.

Most American Indians, however, live away from their reservation in more metropolitan areas like Duluth, Fargo-Moorhead and the Twin Cities.