The drive to get Navajos to the polls in San Juan County is part of a national effort to give Indians a political voice, representatives of two tribes in Utah said Friday.
"We're concerned about the representation we do not have as American Indians in and around the reservation," said Luke Duncan, chairman of the Ute tribe.Duncan was joined by Curtis Cesspooch, vice chairman of the Ute tribe, and San Juan County Commissioner Mark Maryboy, a Navajo, at a press conference called to urge all Indians to register to vote in the Nov. 6 general election.
The controversy surrounding the Navajo vote has brought new attention to the need for all Indians to make sure they have a say in local, state and federal governments, Duncan said.
Utes and tribes from throughout the United States and Canada are watching the Navajo effort. Those tribes signed a pact in Salt Lake City earlier this year to fight threats to their treaties with the federal government.
Their agreement calls for the tribes to put aside whatever differences they may have had in the past and work together to protect their common interests. One way, the Indian leaders said Friday, is at the polls.
"It is very important that we have our Indian people register and put people in office who are sympathetic and really care about our rights as American Indians," Duncan said.
Cesspooch said he was thrilled to hear about the voter-registration drive in San Juan County. "This is a new thing for the Indian tribes," he said. "I think we can change the political scene by having Indian people go out and vote."
Navajos are ahead of other tribes in their political participation. Maryboy is seeking re-election and five Indians are running for the other county offices on the ballot as Democrats.
A voter-registration drive by University of Utah students signed up about 1,000 new Navajo voters, although county officials suspect about half of the names may be duplicates.
Officials from the state attorney general's office and the lieutenant governor will travel to San Juan County next Tuesday to make sure those names are put on the electoral rolls.
Cesspooch said the problems were not unexpected. "Any time a minority group begin to flex their muscles you're going to run into roadblocks and barriers put up by the opposition."
Maryboy said he is satisfied with the action the state is taking to ensure a fair election. The U.S. Department of Justice is also expected to have poll watchers in San Juan County on Election Day.
Some Navajos aren't even aware of the controversy surrounding their participation in the election, he said. "Many don't have access to the media and TV. In their minds they're registered."