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An Indigenous Woman In Idaho Reflects On The Power Of Exercising Her Right To Vote

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Emilie Ritter Saunders
/
Boise State Public Radio

It’s official: more registered voters turned out to vote this year than in any general election since 1980. 81.2% of registered voters cast their ballots, which totals more than 878,000 people in Idaho. 

In a year where Indigenous voters helped swing the election for President-elect Joe Biden, Idaho Matters talks with Dakota Kidder about her experience voting in this historic election. Kidder is the program coordinator for the Native American Student Center at the University of Idaho in Moscow and an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Read the full transcript here:

GEMMA GAUDETTE: You're listening to Idaho Matters, I'm Gemma Gaudette. It's official: more registered voters in Idaho turned out to vote this year than in any general election since 1980. 81.2% of registered voters cast their ballots. That's more than 878,000 people. Well, today, we're going to hear from voters who contributed to that record turnout. Dakota Kidder is the program coordinator for the Native American Student Center at the University of Idaho in Moscow. And she is joining us live today to talk more about that. Welcome to the program.

DAKOTA KIDDER: Hello, thank you for having me.

GAUDETTE: So, Dakota, you've always been an active voter, correct?

KIDDER: That's correct.

GAUDETTE: So talk to me about why it's always been so important for you to vote.

KIDDER: Yes, well, my mom, who will be on in a little bit, really instilled the need to vote, I guess, within our home and within our community. She was very active in getting the native vote, getting our tribal people to vote because, of all of the things that impacts-- I mean, when we think about presidential elections, and other things, we don't think about how they affect us, but they really do in so many ways. And so she really pushed and instilled that important to me. And it also goes back to her mom, my grandmother, her voicing, getting her vote out there was very important to my grandmother. And she passed that to my mom. And, you know, it just came on down the line. So I knew it was always something that I had to do every year, no matter what.

GAUDETTE: Well, and we should note that you are an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and your mom, Kay, is an enrolled member of the Nez Perce tribe. And she's led a lot of vote efforts on the reservation since the late 1990s, correct, Dakota?

KIDDER: Yes, that's correct.

GAUDETTE: And what was that like growing up? I mean to see your mom not just voting, but actively getting other people to participate in the vote?

KIDDER: I thought it was awesome and I thought it was something that everyone's mom did, but I found out later in my later years, that's not the case. And I really started to see that when I was a voting age it was very important to me, but wasn't very important to many of my peers. And so I kind of took on that responsibility to talk to my friends, people like me, to get out and vote.

GAUDETTE: And I understand that this year was the first time in a while that you voted in Idaho, because I believe back in 2018 and 2016, you actually lived in North Dakota. What I'm curious to hear about, Dakota, is your experiences in North Dakota, because we know there is a history in that state of voter suppression that actually targets indigenous people.

KIDDER: Yes, that's true. I had very bad experiences. I watched people around me have very bad experiences that in turn affected me. When I was living in North Dakota, state laws for voters were so restrictive on the types of identification that voters could use at polling places. And then the one that significantly impacted many tribal people in North Dakota was the state law mandating voters present identification that includes their residential street addresses. And this was a problem because many residents living on the reservation did not have street addresses. Many tribal members used post office boxes as their permanent address, and many others lack the supporting documents, such as a birth certificate to get a state-issued I.D.

GAUDETTE: So in the weeks since the election, Dakota, we've heard several news stories detailing how indigenous voters helped swing the election for President-elect Joe Biden, in particular in states like Arizona and Wisconsin? Were you surprised to hear that?

KIDDER: I was very surprised.

GAUDETTE: Why? What stood out to you?

KIDDER: It was very exciting, I mean, it was an anxiety-filled time watching and wondering how people were going to vote and in the beginning, it wasn't looking so good and, you know, I just couldn't think, you know, we have to do better for our people. We have to -- people need to get out and vote. And it was just very surprising for me.

KIDDER: So, before I let you go, Paulette Jordan, she's run for governor here in Idaho. She ran against Senator Jim Risch. She did lose that election just a few weeks ago. But she is a member of the Coeur D'Alene tribe. She was among a group of indigenous candidates who ran for federal office this year.

So even though she lost the race, I wonder, Dakota, if you could kind of reflect on seeing a young politician like her on the ballot and what that means to you, because, you know, there's been such a surge of women with even vice president-elect Kamala Harris coming into office, finally seeing a woman in a position of power. But even though Paulette Jordan lost, is it powerful for you to see an indigenous woman in politics?

KIDDER: Yes, it's very powerful to see. I mean, growing up, a lot of indigenous people have matriarchal families and our women are our leaders in our families, and to see them stepping into different playing fields and in politics especially, it's amazing to see. And even with younger people like AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], you know, she's a young woman, it just gives me as another young person the feeling of we can do this, we can have ideas, we can influence people and we can make a change.

GAUDETTE: Well, I want to thank you so much for your time today, Dakota. We've been talking with Dakota Kidder and an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Thank you so much for your time.

KIDDER: Thank you.

GAUDETTE: More Idaho Matters next.

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Frankie Barnhill is the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast. She's always interested in hearing surprising and enlightening stories about life in the West. Have an idea for Idaho Matters? Drop her a line!