Episode 158: The biases that keep Native Americans from the polls

The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe conducted its 149th annual Wacipi, also known as a powwow, during the Fourth of July weekend in South Dakota. It is the second-oldest Wacipi in the nation. It was once illegal for tribes to practice their religious ceremonies, so they passed off their cultural celebration as a Fourth of July festivity. (Mike Lakusiak/News21)

When the two U.S. Senate candidates went to bed on election night 2002 in South Dakota, it looked like the Republican would be the winner. But then late results came in from two Native American reservations, and Democrat Tim Johnson won re-election.

It’s this potential power of the Native American vote to swing local and state elections that voting rights activists in South Dakota are trying to unlock. And they argue the state has spent decades trying to block that power.

In part two of our investigation into voting rights for Native Americans, we go to South Dakota, where access to the ballot box is crucial for solving issues of poverty and suicides on reservations. We take you to the second oldest powwow in the nation, where deep racial and cultural tensions between Native Americans and non-natives create a different type of barrier to voting.

This report is part of a project on voting rights in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program. Make sure to check out News21’s full story here.

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