LOS ANGELES -- As Native American Heritage Month kicks off during one of the most contentious election cycles in the history of the United States, reports indicate that record voter turnout among Indigenous populations likely played a pivotal role in key swing states like Arizona and Wisconsin.
Despite the turnout, Natalie Landreth, a senior staff attorney and litigator at the Native American Rights Fund, says Indigenous communities still face challenges when it comes to participating in the election process, like access to voting centers.
"Voter suppression in the Native American community looks different than it does elsewhere. What it usually looks like is moving your polling place so far away that you just can't get there," Landreth explained.
According to the First Nations Development Institute, more than half of the Native American community lives in rural areas. In more than 150 Indigenous areas, more than a quarter of people do not have access to a car, according U.S. Census data.
In Southern California's Riverside County at least six reservations don't have any voting centers or ballot drop-off locations on the reservation.
"We still have tribes where you're forced to vote inside of a police station. That's your only polling place and they run your plates while you're there. Some of this is really egregious, outrageous, 1940s-style voter suppression. I wish people knew more about that," Landreth said.
Landreth explained that members of Indigenous communities were targeted by Russian and Iranian foreign interference campaigns uncovered by the FBI last month, saying many people received emails with their full names that included threatening messages designed to sway voters.
When asked how to further raise awareness about issues impacting Native American communities, Landreth responded, "I think a lot of the storytelling and raising awareness is critical toward gaining allies and providing support to the Native American community in terms of lifting up their issues in the networks that you're in."
Advocacy work is another key way to address voter suppression in Indigenous communities, she said.
"One specific piece is the Native American Voting Rights Act in Congress right now. Advocating for that, advocating for the extension of the census, which is also in front of Congress right now -- those kinds of things can be really important roles for allies," Landreth added.