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NM Museum to Highlight History of Indigenous Voting

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Monday, October 11, 2021   

SANTA FE, N.M. - A New Mexico museum is in the first stage of creating an exhibit devoted to the history of indigenous voting.

As recently as 1962, New Mexico suppressed indigenous voting rights on the basis that Native Americans living on reservations were not residents of the state. Fifteen years prior to that, said New Mexico History Museum executive director Billy Garrett, Indigenous people were kept away from the polls with the argument that they did not pay taxes.

"The fact that Native Americans had to sue to get the right to vote, as late as the 1940s, is something I don't think most people know about," he said.

Garrett said the exhibit will highlight the story of Miguel Trujillo, Sr., a Marine sergeant in World War II. He returned to New Mexico and waged a successful legal battle to overturn the state law that barred American Indians living on reservations from participating in elections.

Despite guaranteed voting rights in the United States, Native Americans - especially those who live on reservations - face obstacles. They may travel for many hours to cast ballots, because reservations lack voting sites or reliable mail service. Several states also have enacted voter ID laws requiring that people have a traditional street address, although that's not common on reservations. Garrett said museum exhibits often reveal the complexity of the nation's past.

"There are things that have happened in our history that tend to get buried, they tend to get forgotten," he said. "So, this is an important part of that process of making sure we understand the way that our country works."

He said the Santa Fe museum will use grant money from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop the exhibit, including hiring Native American scholars to research the project. The NEH recently has awarded nearly $88 million in American Rescue Plan relief funding for economic recovery to cultural and educational institutions.


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