Thursday, June 28, 2007

NARF "Indian Wars Never Ended" National PSA Campaign Featured in Native Peoples Magazine

NARF's National PSA Campaign "The Indian Wars" Campaign is featured in the May/June issue of Native Peoples. The highly successful campaign featuring the music of Quese IMC (Pawnee/Seminole)and appearances by DJ Shock B (Pawnee/Seminole), artist Bunky Echo-Hawk (Pawnee/Yakima) and the NARF legal team has raised to date more than $115,000 to support NARF's work on behalf of Native rights. The all-Native production led by director Jenni Monet (Laguna) and included photographer Alyssa Macy (Warm Springs, Wasco, Dine) and graphic designer Ryan Red Corn (Osage) has generated a new found awareness and buzz across generations about NARF's work as modern day warriors in Indian Country.

To learn more about NARF"s PSA Campaign CLICK HERE and join the growing circle of Modern Day Warriors for Native Rights.

Indian Wars Never Ended Campaign featured in Native Peoples Magazine

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


NARF Executive Director John Echohawk, NARF Attorney Nathalie Landreth & ACLU Attorney Jason Brandeis announce lawsuit at press conference.

July 11, 2007
ANCHORAGE — The Native American Rights Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union, acting on behalf of three Bethel-area Alaska Natives, filed suit in federal court today charging state and local elections officials with ongoing violations of the federal Voting Rights Act. The groups charge that state and local officials have denied voter assistance and failed to provide oral language assistance and voting materials to citizens who primarily speak Yup’ik, the first language of many Alaska Natives in the Bethel region.

“Alaska Natives are American citizens and they want to participate in our democratic institutions,” said NARF attorney Natalie Landreth, the lead attorney in the case. “Under the Voting Rights Act, state and local elections officials have an obligation to provide oral language assistance in Yup’ik and ballots and other voting materials translated into Yup’ik – an obligation with which they have never complied.”

“Our Constitution says everyone in our democracy has a right to vote,” said Jason Brandeis, staff attorney for the ACLU of Alaska. “But that right is meaningless if certain groups are unable to cast their ballots accurately regardless of how well-informed they are about the issues of the day.”

In the complaint, filed today in federal district court in Anchorage, Anna Nick and Nellie Moses of Akiachak, Alaska, and Billy McCann of Bethel asked the court to order state and local election officials to comply with the voter assistance and language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act and to appoint federal observers to oversee future elections in the Bethel area. Voter assistance in this case would mean that people who need assistance to vote are entitled to receive it – even in the voting booth - from someone of their own choosing. Language assistance in this case would mean translating ballots and other election materials into Yup’ik and providing bilingual staff to help register voters and to help voters at the polls.

“Translations are absolutely crucial for these Alaska Natives,” said NARF’s Landreth. “Especially today, when it seems there are so many complicated initiatives and referenda and advisory votes – understanding the nuance of a ballot question is integral to knowing which way to cast your vote. The right to vote is an empty promise if those who need help – the elderly, the infirm – are barred from relying on a person of their own choice.”

Brandeis added that the Voting Rights Act continues to be a successful tool to making the American election system fairer for all Americans. “In San Diego County, California, registration among Hispanics and Filipinos rose by 20 percent and Vietnamese registrations increased by 40 percent after a suit initiated by the Department of Justice. In New York City, language assistance has helped more than 100,000 Asian-Americans to vote,” Brandeis said. “The numbers may not be as large in Bethel – but language assistance will be just as important to each Alaska Native as it was to each and every one of those 100,000 New Yorkers.”

Alaska is one of just five states that are covered in its entirety by sections 4(f)4 and 203, the language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Those provisions apply to areas that meet certain threshhold requirements for numbers of citizens with limited English proficiency. Section 208 has nationwide applicability and gives “any voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write” a right to receive “assistance by a person of the voter’s choice”. The temporary provisions of the Voting Rights Act, including the language assistance provisions, were just reauthorized by Congress in 2006 for an additional 25 years.

Defendants in the suit filed today include Lt. Governor Sean Parnell, Division of Elections Director Whitney Brewster, Regional Elections Supervisor Becka Baker, and Bethel Municipal Clerk Sandra Modigh. The defendants will have an opportunity to respond to the complaint before any further proceedings are scheduled.

Attorneys for the Alaska Natives are Landreth, Brandeis and Neil Bradley of the national ACLU Voting Rights Project.

Lawsuit charges Native voting rights violated

by Maria DowneyMonday, June 11, 2007
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In federal court today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, along with the Native American Rights Fund, filed a lawsuit against state and local election officials on behalf of Bethel area voters.

Voters in the region claim their rights were violated when ballots and resources were not provided for Yup'ik speakers.

Rural Alaskans often cannot simply drive across town to a polling station and cast their ballots. In fact, some Bush communities require a boat ride or a river navigation to fulfill their civil duties -- a task that is respected and taken seriously.

Some believe that the Division of Elections -- at both the state and local level -- has violated the National Voting Rights Act of 1965 by not providing ballots in some Native languages.
Natalie Landreth of the Native American Rights Fund said the language barrier leaves people confused about ballots.

"It's completely beyond a doubt that they are not casting a meaningful ballot when they can not fully understand what they are voting for," Landreth said.

Many elders in Bethel primarily speak and read Yup'ik, the largest of the Alaska Native languages.

The lawsuit alleges that the violations have been ongoing, and that elections officials have denied voter assistance and voting materials to non-English speakers.

"The fundamental right of an American citizen is to participate in representative democracy, but many Yup'ik communities and the four specifically in this complaint are faced with a choice of voting incorrectly or in a way they did not intend, or not voting at all," Landreth said.

Attorneys for both civil rights organizations said they were compelled to sue after speaking with community elders in the Bethel region who claimed to have quit voting after being unable to read or understand ballots.

Landreth said some elders told her they were afraid to vote because they could not understand the ballots.

An example given by attorneys in the case involved the so-called English-only measure, an approved ballot proposition that requires the state to use English in all government functions and actions. Yup'ik speaking elders said the ballot proposition was listed in English only, and they mistakenly voted for it.

Jason Brandeis of the ACLU of Alaska Foundation said voter's rights are being violated.
"Enabling people to have meaningful access to the electoral process -- that's what the Voting Rights Act is all about. It's to ensure every American citizen who has the right to vote can participate fully in that process, and that's a right that is guaranteed to every one under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. This is something that is not happening in the Bethel census area," Brandeis said.

While a decision would immediately affect Bethel area voters, where the largest group of Yup'ik speaking voters in Alaska is located, it would also affect other Native communities across the state that fit the Voting Rights Act criteria for language assistance.

"To enforce the rights the people in the Lower 48 already have and that immigrant communities already have once they become citizens, we believe that America's first people are also entitled to these same rights," Landreth said.

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, the constitutional chief for the Division of Elections, would not comment on the lawsuit. His office said they had not yet seen the complaint.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Alaska Natives address climate change

by Joy Mapaye


Sunday, June 10, 2007
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- At a meeting today, Alaska Native leaders presented 150 climate change resolutions.

Tribal governments and corporations across Alaska came up with the resolutions, calling on Congress to enact legislation that would cap carbon emissions.

The groups want to send the message to Congress that villages in Alaska are suffering the consequences of climate change.

Areas such as Shishmaref and Kivalina are experiencing devastating erosion and experts said the towns will have to be moved.

Heather Kendall-Miller of the Native American Rights Fund said she wants to make Congress aware of the problems Alaskans face.

"We hope to get congressional hearings set up in the coming months, so we can focus Congress' attention on this critical issue and to the unique needs of Native American communities in Alaska -- the need for money for relocation efforts, the need for legislation that caps emissions, the need for some kind of governmental entity that is responsive to these needs," Kendall-Miller said.

The group hopes to have hearings in August.