Indigenous political representation…
Arizona recently made history by electing three Indigenous women—Jamescita Peshlakai (Navajo), Victoria Steele (Seneca), and Sally Ann Gonzales (Pascua Yaqui)—to the Arizona Senate. All three won their respective Democratic Primaries, and only one has opposition in the General election (a long-shot write-in opponent). Two Indigenous men—Myron Tsosie, Arlando Teller, both Navajo—also have no Republican opposition in the General election. This will increase the Arizona legislature’s Indigenous Peoples Caucus from four (4) to five (5), a far cry from just 20 years ago, when the de-facto Indigenous Peoples Caucus was comprised of one person, Sally Ann Gonzales. In 1998, Gonzales was the first Indigenous woman elected to the Arizona Legislature and was the only Indigenous person in the legislature. After serving two terms, she took a hiatus from politics until 2010, when she again ran for the House of Representatives.
One of my recent Latinopia blogs focused on Gonzales. [For those who may want to refresh their memory, here is the link to that blog: http://latinopia.com/blogs/political-salsa-y-mas-with-sal-baldenegro-1-14-18/ ] Since the first time she ran for office, political machines (including so-called “progressives”) have targeted her and tried to silence her and deprive the Yaquis a political voice, a throwback to the shameful history of disenfranchising Indigenous people. More on this later in this blog.
Indigenous peoples considered “foreigners!”
In historical context, electing five Indigenous people to the Arizona legislature is noteworthy. One of our country’s dirty little secrets is that the Indigenous peoples who inhabited this land before any white folks “discovered” it didn’t have citizenship status until 1924 and couldn’t vote for decades after that. Under Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution “Indians not taxed” weren’t counted as citizens. The infamous U.S. Supreme Court Dred Scott decision (1857) determined that Indigenous people were subjects of a “foreign government,” their tribes, and that only Indigenous persons who left their tribe and lived among white people could claim the rights and privileges that would accrue to an emigrant from any other “foreign people.”
In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States and “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Since Indigenous peoples were perceived to be subject to the jurisdiction of their respective tribes, the jurisdiction requirement was used to deny citizenship to Indigenous people. In deference to the many Indigenous men who had fought under the U.S. flag in World War I, in 1924 the Indian Citizenship Act granted full U.S. citizenship to the country’s indigenous people.
However, since voting rights were governed by state law, the federal Indian Citizenship Act did not confer voting rights on Indigenous people. Until 1957, some states barred Indigenous peoples from voting. [The Indian Citizenship Act didn’t include people born before the act’s 1924 effective date. It was not until the Nationality Act of 1940 that all Indigenous people born on U.S. soil were considered citizens.]
Meanwhile in Arizona…
In my home state, Arizona, Indigenous peoples were not allowed to vote until 1948, when the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a ban on Indian voting. But Arizona continued to exclude Indigenous peoples from voting by means of virtually-impossible-to-pass English literacy tests. These tests (also used by other states) were not outlawed until 1970.
Considering this history, then, it is heartening to see Indigenous people being elected to the state legislature and in numbers sufficient to impact legislation and influence policy.
But Arizona lawmakers never give up…
Arizona lawmakers replaced voting bans and literacy tests with other voter suppression measures. For example, it is a felony for someone other than family members or postal workers to deliver a neighbor’s or an elder’s ballot to a polling place. Some relevant facts: (1) about 80% of Arizonans vote early by mail and (2) Indian Reservations tend to be rural, with large distances between people’s homes and polling places or post offices where people can pick up or drop off mail. Thus, criminalizing people helping elderly, disabled, etc., neighbors deliver their ballots keeps many Reservation residents from exercising their voting rights. Another voter suppression tactic is to not allow voters to vote in a precinct other than their own. Allowing voters to do so is logical and practical in large, rural Reservations where people might live far away from where they work.
Arizona’s not alone. Just this month the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a North Dakota law that will disenfranchise thousands of Indigenous people. That law, which requires voters to produce at the polls an ID with a “current residential street address” or proof thereof, specifically targeted Indigenous people. The U.S. Postal Service doesn’t provide residential mail delivery in remote areas. Thus, many members of North Dakota’s Indigenous tribes don’t have street addresses and use their mailing addresses, like P.O. boxes, on their IDs. This disqualifies them from voting.
Political machines target Sally Gonzales…
As noted, since 1997 political machines (including some so-called “progressives”) have tried to silence Sally Gonzales. But these efforts go beyond Gonzales—they are out to deprive the Yaquis a political voice. In my recent Latinopia blog I noted that the Yaquis are known as a “warrior nation.” From the mid-1500s to the early-1900s, the Yaquis successfully fought off the Spanish and then the Mexicans when both of these groups wanted to seize the very fertile and mineral-rich Yaqui land, which is concentrated along the Río Yaqui in the Mexican state of Sonora, which is contiguous to Arizona.
Sally Ann Gonzales does her Yaqui “warrior nation” heritage proud. She not only beat back the political establishment-machines, she fights ferociously for the rights of people of color, for workers, children, women, teachers. She doesn’t pontificate about “speaking truth to power”—she does it. A couple of examples:
Recently she stood with barrio residents who successfully fought back an all-Democratic Mayor-Council decision favorable to developers that would have had profound negative effects on two Chicano barrios. [Democratic State Representatives Macario Saldate and Bruce Wheeler also stood with the barrios.] During her Primary race a few months ago, Sally Gonzales called out a high-ranking Democratic elected official, a Mexican American, for, in her words, “disrespecting women.” In retaliation, the Democratic Party establishment-machine set out to defeat Gonzales. But the voters rebuffed the Democratic Party establishment-machine and elected Gonzales by a significant margin. In 2010 Gonzales also handily beat this same Democratic Party establishment-machine.
Likewise, in 1997, when she was elected State Representative the first time, she took on the Democratic Party establishment-machine of that time who worked militantly to prevent Mexican Americans-Yaquis from being elected in a predominantly Mexican American-Yaqui district. That battle started in the late 1970s, when Luis Armando Gonzales (no relation to Sally) emerged from the Old Pascua Yaqui Village and took on the establishment-machine and won a state senate seat and changed, for the better, the political dynamics of the Mexican American-Yaqui community for generations.
Real goal is to take away the voice of the Yaquis…
The attacks on Sally Ann Gonzales are the modern incarnation of the campaign to disenfranchise Indigenous people, attempts to take away the voice of the Yaqui community, for Sally Gonzales is the face of the Pascua Yaqui tribe in the legislature. No other explanation makes sense given that Sally Ann Gonzales is very competent and productive, is true to the values the Democratic Party purports to represent, and she stands up for her constituents.
Sally Gonzales made history in 1997 by being the first Indigenous woman elected to the Arizona Legislature. Today she not only is the sole member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe in the Arizona legislature, she is the first Indigenous person from Southern Arizona to ever be elected to the state senate and is the senior member of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus. And she is very good at her job. From my perspective this is something to celebrate rather than oppose. c/s
Again, here’s the link to my previous blog on Sally Ann Gonzales:
Copyright 2018 by Sal Baldenegro. To contact Sal visit: firstname.lastname@example.org World War One photo in the public domain, all other photos used under the “fair use” proviso of the copyright law.