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OR Voting Maps Could Weaken Indigenous Communities' Electoral Power


Monday, December 27, 2021   

Indigenous communities in Oregon are raising concerns about the voting maps drawn and approved in Oregon.

Brian Smith is a political consultant and Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma citizen who worked with the organization Better Together to propose legislative maps for tribal community voting rights activists in Oregon.

He said it's important to keep the state's tribal communities together but feels as if the final map dilutes their power.

Smith said because indigenous people mainly live in rural parts of the state, their strategy differed from Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC coalitions in urban areas such as Portland.

"What we need is consolidated power to get people in to represent us," said Smith. "So it's different from rural BIPOC communities than urban BIPOC communities."

Smith said members of three tribal nations - Klamath Tribes, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs - were cut off from the cities where they live, such as Klamath Falls, or from high concentrations of latino populations, who often vote as one coalition.

Smith said he feels as if the process happened too quickly, giving communities little time to comment on the proposed maps.

"Essentially," said Smith, "I feel like Natives were thrown under the bus with the realization, it's like, 'Oh, they don't have real voting power. We don't have to be accountable to these folks, and then we can say whatever we want after the fact. People will forget.' "

Smith said redistricting this year should be a teaching moment for the next time redistricting comes up in a decade.

"I think tribal communities need to have this awareness that don't assume you have friends," said Smith. "You have to work as hard as you can, scratch and fight to protect yourselves."

The maps were approved in late September and tribes did not challenge them legally by the deadline in October.

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