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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: June 2012

8 - From Extermination to Electorate


In the 1860s, Senator James Doolittle of Wisconsin played a prominent role in the debate over the Fourteenth Amendment and became a proponent of President Grant's “peace policy” toward Indians. On a fact-finding trip to Denver in 1866, Senator Doolittle addressed a crowd, asking rhetorically what should be done with the Indians. The crowd began screaming out a chant, “Exterminate them, exterminate them” (quoted in Goodrich 1997, 58). One hundred forty years later, in 2004, Indians comprised a critical voting bloc that was wooed by all sides: “From the Dakotas and Oklahoma to Arizona, California and Washington state, the Navajo, Cherokee, Yakima and other Native American tribes are being aggressively courted by both parties this year like never before” (Glionna 2004). Things have changed.

The political evolution of American Indians from the focus of ethnic cleansing to swing-vote electorate can be attributed to many factors, but without doubt the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has added meaning and substance to their right to vote. After over seventy lawsuits, Indians now have many legal victories. Chapter 7 demonstrated that many of these victories have led to tangible gains in terms of candidates elected and policies influenced. Where they have not, it is sometimes because Indians have not run for election or Indian voters have not turned out in sufficient numbers. Thus, efforts to mobilize Indian voters and candidates are crucial to fulfilling the potential created by legal victories.

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