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SOS’s Native Voting Hour program seeks to inform, encourage Indigenous peoples to vote

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SOS’s Native Voting Hour program seeks to inform, encourage Indigenous peoples to vote

Jun 14, 2024 | 2:55 pm ET
By Shondiin Silversmith
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SOS’s Native Voting Hour program seeks to inform, encourage Indigenous peoples to vote
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Photo via Getty Images

The Secretary of State’s Office is working to reach Native voters across the state with Native Voting Hour, a way to hear from voters within Indigenous communities directly as well as provide them with information about their voting rights.

Native Voting Hour is a monthly virtual meeting series held on Zoom on the last Tuesday of every month at 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. The meeting is open to the public and dedicated to empowering and educating Native voters across the Grand Canyon state. 

“The program was established as a way for our office to be approachable from the community,” said Millicent Michelle Pepion, the outreach coordinator and tribal liaison for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Pepion understands that meeting virtually in the middle of the afternoon may not be ideal for many people. However, having the program set for a regular time every month helps with consistency and reliability. 

Each monthly virtual meeting is an hour long and focuses on a theme. It features three to four guest speakers with various backgrounds related to the month’s theme. 

The theme for June is Native Voter Outreach: Surveying Rural and Urban Strategies, and it will feature Rosetta Walker, a deputy registrar for the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, Liv Knocki, the executive director for Wingbeat 88, and Susan Levy, the communications and community relations director for NATIVE HEALTH.

Pepion said that the Secretary of State’s Office often works with different organizations, universities, school departments and tribal councils. However, the Native Voting Hour program is different. 

The program is a way for the Secretary of State’s Office to reach out directly to Indigenous community members, she said, and let them know the office is trying to learn what issues are happening within Native communities and how to best address them. 

Pepion said that their work is to reach Native people who are hesitant to register to vote, are not motivated to vote, or who need help understanding how their votes can promote change.

As the tribal liaison for the Secretary of State, Pepion said she makes an effort to connect with all 22 tribal nations in Arizona and has visited about 12 of them so far. She visits community events and talks about the services her office provides for Indigenous communities.

“We are engaging directly with tribal councils and we would love to continue the relationships we have created and establish more,” she added. “We are doing boots on the ground and trying to not just stay in Maricopa County.”

Pepion said that the Secretary of State’s efforts strives to inform Indigenous community leaders and help to get more people engaged in voting. 

“If we can help the Native American community in this effort to vote, we will actually be helping other communities that suffer similar experiences,” she added. 

The next Native Voting Hour is scheduled for June 25. Walker, one of the speakers, has advocated for Native voting rights in Arizona for decades, and for the last 12 years has been working as a deputy registrar with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Deputy Registrar Program. 

When she learned that the Arizona Secretary of State has a tribal liaison and started hosting Native voting hours, she was excited to participate in any way possible.

“I’m planting seeds of advocacy,” Walker said of her work. 

She said that she is planting the seeds that people need to understand what is happening at the Legislature so people know “who the candidates are and make wise decisions at the polls.”

“I’m just encouraging you and letting you know the power of the vote,” Walker added.

Walker, 63, is Sicangu Lakota from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, but she has lived in Arizona for nearly 30 years. Walker said when she started advocating for voting rights, she always made sure to share her family’s story. 

Walker said her family has many military veterans, including her grandfather, who served during World War I, but when he returned home, like all other Indigenous veterans, he did not have the right to vote, even though they were citizens of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

“I do that because so many people don’t understand the power of vote,” Walker said. She hopes that her work to get more information out to the community about Native voting will help voters understand how powerful their vote is. 

“You can have an impact on your local elections, your tribal elections, your state and federal elections,” she said. 

Walker said that when she first started volunteering with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, there were not many resources being shared with Native voters. She did not see many Native people participate as poll workers or become deputy registrars. 

In the last five years, Walker said she has seen that slowly change, and she thinks that’s because of the advocacy that Indigenous people do within their community. 

“If you want to be part of your community, then the best way to take part is to be a volunteer,” she said. “Step up to be a poll worker (and) learn how to register people to vote.”