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First Americans Museum hosts rally to increase Indigenous voter participation in Oklahoma

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Allison Herrera
/
OPMX
Democratic candidate for Governor Joy Hofmeister appears on stage with United Indian Nations of Oklahoma chairwoman Margo Gray at the "Warrior Up to Vote Rally" in Oklahoma City.

Earlier this month, Hofmeister received a formal endorsement from leaders of Oklahoma's five largest tribal nations. They cited her respect for tribal sovereignty, a willingness to come to the table to work with tribes on public safety, and a commitment to education.

Prospective Native voters gathered at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City last week to listen to stump speeches from candidates for federal and statewide offices, including Governor. The "Warrior Up to Vote Rally" is part of an effort to get Indigenous people to turn out for midterm elections.

The crowd heard comments from a schedule of listed speakers, which included Democratic, Libertarian and Independent candidates.

Democratic challenger for Governor Joy Hofmeister received a rousing applause from the crowd. The DJ played the Aretha Franklin hit song "Respect" as aunties and powwow princesses attendees gathered around Hofmeister to snap selfies and shake hands.

The rally was one of many stops Hofmeister is making on a large coach bus before the election on Nov. 8. The Republican-turned-Democrat plans on crisscrossing the state to make the case for her candidacy in a tight race for the state's highest office.

"Talk with your family, talk with your neighbors, ask them how they are going to vote and hold them accountable and let's take back this state," Hofmeister told the crowd.

The rally is aimed at educating Native voters in the state about who is running for office, and encouraging them to show up at the ballot box.

During recent election cycles, analysts credited Native voters for swinging races in Wisconsin and Arizona. Indigenous people didn’t gain the right to vote until the 1960s and still have a registration and participation rate that is below other groups.

Amanda Williams, a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, was there with her dad, Billie Williams, who is an elder in the tribe.

"Never in my 36 years of life has he ever shown an interest in statewide politics, and he called me yesterday and said, 'We need to go see Joy Hofmeister at the First Americans Museum at 7 p.m.,'" said Amanda Williams. "So I did the only thing I've ever done politically with my dad and brought him out here."

"She's an educator, and we need that," said Billie Williams about Hofmeister.

He cited the state's low ranking when it comes to education, and said Hofmeister respects tribal sovereignty more than Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. He said that's one of the reasons he's voting for her.

Stitt, who is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, did not attend the event. The governor has had a frosty relationship with the tribes since trying to rework decades-old gaming compacts with the state in 2020. He recently reignited that fight by retaining outside legal counsel in an effort to advance contested gaming compacts with four Oklahoma tribes.

Stitt's tense standoff with Oklahoma tribes over gaming compacts, criminal justice, hunting and fishing licenses and taxes has drawn the ire of many, including those inside his own party. During a legislative fight with the governor earlier this year, one Republican lawmaker classified Stitt's behavior toward tribes as "racist and hateful."

The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Tribes, which consists of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Chickasaw and Muscogee nations, even rescinded a previous congratulatory resolution for his election because the members were "repeatedly disappointed" by the governor.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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