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On Tuesday, April 4, the state has an election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court that will profoundly impact Indigenous people. This spring election, I will be voting for my ancestors and to continue my father, Hilary “Sparky” Waukau’s legacy to protect the environment and the sovereignty of future generations.
Although we may not always notice, the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court make decisions that affect our daily lives. Past court cases include decisions on the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, voting rights, COVID-19 emergency orders, ballot drop boxes and others.
These cases have ripple effects in our Native American Indian communities.
Native people were hit hardest during the pandemic and died at higher rates than any other ethnic group in Wisconsin during COVID-19. So when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled to overturn the statewide mask mandate, that hurt our people.
Additionally, last year, the court made a decision that absentee ballot drop boxes are illegal and that a friend or family member cannot return someone else’s ballot for them. This decision made it much harder for people to vote.
There are many Native people who lack adequate transportation and depend on nearby drop boxes. This includes elders and people with disabilities who need assistance returning their ballot. Drop boxes were located all over Milwaukee, which made returning an absentee ballot much more accessible.
The decisions the court makes matter to our people, which is why we must use our voices to vote on April 4.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court justice we elect will sit on the court for the next 10 years, which means this election will matter for generations to come. The decisions the court justices make will touch the lives of our children and their children. Future cases likely to come before the court may include the legality of the criminal abortion ban, the makeup of voting maps, election rules, environmental protections, LGBTQ+ rights, gun issues and more.
We cannot afford to sit out of this election.
When I say I’m voting for my ancestors, I mean that I vote to honor the people who came before me and fought for this right. Native people were not allowed to vote until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Even then, many states created barriers to prevent our people from voting such as state laws and literacy tests. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 that all Indigenous people in the United States truly had the freedom to vote.
I vote to honor the legacy of the men and women who fought for my freedom. And I vote for my children and the seven generations who come after me because our people still face barriers.
Years ago when I showed up to vote, I was told by the poll worker sitting in front of me that I could not vote because I am Indian. Even though I corrected her several times, she maintained her stance that “Indians can’t vote.”
I waited for her to talk to the lead poll worker, and when she came back and apologized, I took my ballot and cast my vote.
However, it’s sad to say, there are people who may not have stood up for their right to vote.
We face discrimination and structural barriers to voting. I know because I have lived it. When we vote, we are using our voices to make a better outcome for our future generations and elect people who will listen to our communities.
When we vote, we are showing people that we are still here and we matter.
Our vote does truly count!
I urge you to vote on Tuesday, April 4. You can find your polling place and see a sample ballot at myvote.wi.gov.
Anne Egan-Waukau is a member of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and is the Urban Native Vote Organizer for Wisconsin Native Vote, a program of Wisconsin Conservation Voices. In this role, she fosters relationships with Native American Indian relatives and organizations in Milwaukee and Madison to ensure the voices of Native people are included in the fight to protect our environment and our freedom to vote. She learned from her father, Hilary “Sparky” Waukau, that relationships are key in the fight to protect the resources of Mother Earth in perpetuity.
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