Indigenous People’s Day and Voting Rights

Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt PC

Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt PC

In honor of Indigenous People’s Day, attorney and tribal citizen Sarah Roubidoux Lawson (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska) shared some background on the timely topic of voting rights, highlighting some of the issues Indigenous people have encountered (and are still facing) in exercising this right.


Many cities and states across the United States are observing Indigenous People’s Day today, rather than Columbus Day. The idea of replacing Columbus Day with a day commemorating the Indigenous people of North America was first proposed in 1977 by the International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations. Fifteen years later, in 1992, the city council in Berkeley, California, declared October 12 as a “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People” and symbolically renamed Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Since then, several states, cities, and universities have followed suit, including the states of Alaska, California, and Oregon, and the city of Seattle. Schwabe has offices in each of these places.

Sarah noted that as an attorney who practices Native American law, she could talk at length about the history of federal policy regarding Indigenous peoples and the disastrous effects those policies have had on tribal governments, their lands, and their people. And as a citizen of a federally recognized tribe, she could tell you how these policies have personally affected her family. However, in light of the upcoming election, Sarah decided to focus on voting rights.

Native Americans in the United States did not have birthright citizenship until 1924, when Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act. After that, laws in some states prohibited them from voting, even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Unfortunately, voting rights is an ongoing issue in Indian Country, and in just the last two months tribes in Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana have filed suit to protect the votes of their citizens.

For more information on the Indian Citizenship Act and recent voting rights issues, the below links may offer additional insight:

Recent reporting on voting rights in Indian Country from High Country News:

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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