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Citizenship and voting rights of indigenous people

How has the citizenship status and voting rights of indigenous people changed over time in the United States? Created by Kimberly Kutz.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In this video, I wanna give you a very brief overview of the history of citizenship for indigenous people in the United States. The story of indigenous people in North America and their citizenship status in the United States is long and complex and it's changing even today. The Supreme court recently ruled in July, 2020 that indigenous people in the Eastern half of Oklahoma must be tried in federal or tribal courts, not state courts because the land belongs to the Muskogee Creek Nation. So I wanna be clear that what we're covering in this video is just the most basic outline of how citizenship for indigenous people has changed over time. There is so much more to learn on this topic if you're interested. Okay with that said, let's go back to 1789 when the constitution gave the first definition of who was and was not a US citizen. Article 1 of the constitution mentions indigenous people twice; once to say that Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States and with the Indian tribes. And once to say that the population of each state as counted for the purposes of representation would exclude Indians not taxed. That indigenous people were categorized with foreign nations for the purposes of regulating trade and not counted in state populations shows us that they were not considered US citizens at that time. Remember that at this time, US citizenship was generally reserved for white men, women and children and voting rights were reserved for white men with property. The next major change in citizenship rights was the ratification of the 14th amendment, which guaranteed citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States. This ensured citizenship rights for African-Americans and the children of Asian immigrants. But at the time the courts did not interpret it to include indigenous people. Only about 8% of all indigenous people, those who were not living among a distinct nation, but instead within white settlements were taxed and therefore eligible to become citizens. Now I should mention that not all indigenous people wanted US citizenship, many preferred to live separately from the United States as part of their own nations. But as the US government and white settlers colonized North America rapidly in the mid to late 19th century, they ignored the rights of indigenous people as members of separate nations, forcibly relocating them to reservations or even killing them in order to obtain their land. In 1887, Congress passed the Dawes Act, which attempted to force indigenous people to give up their culture and common lands and live like Euro-Americans on individual tracks of land, any indigenous person who received a land allotment would receive US citizenship. It didn't grant birthright citizenship to indigenous people or citizenship to anyone who didn't accept a land allotment. not until 1924 in recognition of indigenous soldiers in World War I, did Congress confer citizenship on all indigenous people and guarantee birthright citizenship to them with the passage of the Snyder Act, which is also called the Indian Citizenship Act. But did having citizenship automatically confer the right to vote? If you've been paying attention in these videos, you will know that the answer is no. Many States denied voting rights to indigenous people. They faced many of the same barriers to accessing the ballot as African-Americans did before the civil rights movement. Following World War II indigenous people sued for the right to vote in States that denied them. Utah was the last state to remove formal barriers in 1962. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided additional protections for indigenous voters by outlying exclusionary practices that deny or bridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color. So that's a very brief overview of indigenous citizenship rights and voting rights. In what ways were the citizenship rights of indigenous peoples similar to other minorities like African-Americans and in what ways were they different? Why do you think indigenous people may have wanted US citizenship or not wanted US citizenship?