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  • On election night, CNN featured an on-air graphic that labeled voters who were not white, Latino, Black, or Asian, “something else,” revealing that the mainstream media continues to erase the existence of Native Americans.
  • Disregarding the original people of this continent is never okay, especially when Native voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona especially, played a pivotal role and contributed greatly to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. 
  • This year, a record six Native candidates will be a part of the United States Congress. Dozens of Native candidates were elected to state and local office across the country, as well. 
  • It’s well past time for the media and society in general to acknowledge and respect this land’s Indigenous Peoples.
  • Ruth Hopkins is a Dakota/Lakota Sioux Writer & Indigenous Defender. Follow her on Twitter: @Ruth_HHopkins
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

During election week Native Americans across the country were once again reminded that to the mainstream media and much of society, we are invisible.

The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) published a chart based on data gleaned from the Associated Press entitled, “Young People of Color Supported Joe Biden by Overwhelming Margins.” It showed how Black, Latino and Asian youth overwhelmingly supported Biden over Trump. Notably absent? Native youth. 

Yet this little omission merely rubbed salt into a wound created on election night by CNN, when the cable news network featured an on-air graphic that labeled voters who were not white, Latino, Black, or Asian, “something else.” 

Natives are incredibly resilient and are notorious for using humor to cope with trauma and defuse tension, so Native social media accounts flooded platforms with memes making fun of the blunder, but make no mistake, we were insulted. 

The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) demanded an apology from CNN, saying, “Being Native American is a political classification — not merely a racial background. Native nations have had a government-to-government relationship with the United States since the country’s earliest days. To refer to Indigenous voters as ‘something else’ fails to recognize the sovereignty and political classification of Native voters.” 

They also offered to meet with senior CNN editorial staff to assist them in improving their reporting (or lack thereof) on Indian country. 

Native voters in key states played a pivotal role in the election. 

Disregarding the original people of this continent is never okay, but erasing us during election coverage cut deep. You see, Native communities work their collective asses off to turn out the vote, and this year, Native voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona especially, played a pivotal role.

Natives make up about 6% of the population of Arizona, or 424,955 people as of 2018, and the Navajo Nation has around 67,000 eligible voters. This election, the Navajo had a 97% voter turnout. President-elect Joe Biden won the three counties that overlap the Navajo Nation with 73,954 votes. President Donald Trump received a mere 2,010 votes. 

Most precincts located on the Tohono O’odham Nation were above 90% for Biden, and the territories of the Hualapai, Havasupai, White Mountain Apache, Gila River, San Carlos Apache, Pascua Yaqui, Cocopah and Colorado River Tribes were 70-90% for Biden. Biden currently leads in Arizona by 11,935 votes with 98% of the votes tallied — a margin slimmer than the Native voter turnout. 

Tribes in Arizona also helped flip an Arizona Senate seat from red to blue as former astronaut Mark Kelly unseated Republican incumbent Martha McSally.

About 90,189 Natives call Wisconsin home. Biden won the state by less than 21,000 votes. In Menominee County, where you’ll find the Menominee Tribe’s reservation, 82% of voters supported Biden. 

Besides having to overcome voter suppression, it’s important to remember that Tribes are being hit hard by the pandemic and have received little assistance. Tribes even had to sue to receive $8 billion in COVID-19 relief funding owed to them by the federal government. In May 2020, the Navajo Nation had coronavirus infection rates that eclipsed those of New York. They’ve lost nearly 600 Tribal members to the virus. The Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona has also been engaged in a lengthy battle with the Trump administration over construction of his shoddy border wall through their ancestral lands and sacred sites without their consent.

We aren’t sitting on the sidelines, either. 

In 2020, a record six Native candidates will be a part of the United States Congress. Dozens of Native candidates were elected to state and local office across the country, as well. 

It’s no wonder Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation, appeared on CNN and gave them a piece of his mind, saying that categorizing Natives as “something else” is offensive. (It is.) 

The good news is that the new presidential administration, the one we helped put in office, acknowledges us, and wants to work with Tribal communities. On Saturday, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris expressly mentioned Native women among those that have fought for equality and liberty, and President-elect Joe Biden listed Native Americans as being a part of his broad coalition. Biden has also vowed to put at least one Native American in his Cabinet. 

We deserve America’s respect

As a willful, curious, free-spirited child, I heard the phrase, “You’re Something Else!” more than a few times. While using that expression in terms of data collection is indicative of sloppy journalism and disrespectful to those put in such a category, perhaps describing Natives generally as “something else” isn’t far off from the truth — because we create miracles. 

Native Americans owe the United States nothing. We were subjected to centuries of genocide and lost over 90% of our population. Our lands were stolen, and our treaties were broken. We are still discriminated against and many Reservations face extreme imposed poverty. Yet we serve in the military in greater numbers than any other ethnic group, protect the land and water with our lives, and yes, we came to your rescue again, like the Navajo codetalkers during World War II, and helped you escape an authoritarian theocracy and quite likely, a fascist dictatorship. 

Respect us.

Ruth Hopkins is a Dakota/Lakota Sioux Writer & Indigenous Defender. Follow her on Twitter: @Ruth_HHopkins