Native Vote Alliance
15542 State 371 NW
PO Box 217
Cass Lake, MN
How did the Native Vote Alliance of Minnesota begin?
In the spring of 2004, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin and then President
Doreen Hagen of the Prairie Island Indian Community joined forces to co-chair a comprehensive statewide
non-partisan Native voter mobilization campaign called “Native Vote 2004 – Minnesota Style.” The goal of
the project was to organize and facilitate voter education, registration, and get-out- the-vote strategies
throughout Indian communities in Minnesota. Judy Hanks, Project Development Coordinator for the Mille Lacs
Band of Ojibwe Office of Government Affairs, served as state-wide coordinator.
The theme of the project was based on the sad reality that Native Americans were granted citizenship and with
it the right to vote just 80 years prior to 2004 with the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924. Posters,
buttons, t-shirts, newspaper ads, and billboards carried this theme with the caption “80 years ago, they couldn’t!
Today you Can!”
Chief Executive Benjamin and President Hagen sent invitations to the other tribal leaders asking them to identify
one or more individuals to represent their reservation on a statewide planning team. A solid statewide Get Out
the Native Vote (GOTNV) Planning Team was the result.
Planning Team monthly meetings focused on development and implementation of the 2004 GOTNV campaign and gave
representatives the opportunity to share ideas and provide support for each community effort. Trainings were
held on topics such as voter registration laws, election protection, and successful get out the vote strategies.
The “Native Vote 2004 – Minnesota Style” Planning Team developed and implemented a comprehensive GOTNV action
plan. The project became recognized as the “Minnesota Model” and the first of its kind in the nation. The 2004
GOTNV campaign was a huge success as evidenced by the following election day voter statistics:
The 2004 GOTNV campaign was a huge success
as evidenced by the following statistics*
To review the complete report click here
The success of the “Minnesota Model” was recognized by the National Congress of American Indians with Judy Hanks,
Statewide Coordinator, asked to do presentations on the model at NCAI conferences. The Minnesota Indian Chamber of
Commerce also recognized the project by awarding Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin and President Hagen the “Spirit
of the People Award” for their visionary leadership in organizing the statewide campaign. Benjamin and Hagen received
the award at the Chambers 2005 Annual Dinner and Awards Banquet (see pictures in 2004 photo gallery). In addition,
all forms of print and broadcast media including a New York City radio station and a Chicago based newspaper covered
Successes and accomplishments of “Native Vote 2004 – Minnesota Style” include:
The tribal leaders recognized the projects success with support by resolution for the development of a formal structure to carry the initiative into the future. As a result, in May 2006, Native Vote Alliance of Minnesota became incorporated as a non-partisan, non-profit corporation under Minnesota law. Many of the original planning team members now serve on the Board of Directors for NVAM.
- Encouraged and facilitated tribal government and urban Indian communities to create GOTNV teams.
- Established a statewide Planning Team to coordinate statewide and local community GOTNV activities.
- Organized and provided training for GOTNV teams. Topics covered included: 1) history & importance of the Native Vote, 2) voter Registration, 3) voter education, 4) voter mobilization, 5) election protection, and 6) developing a voter mobilization plan.
- Developed and communicated a common message through a coordinated internal and external media/marketing campaign. Marketing was accomplished through distribution of buttons, t-shirts, and posters with the message “80 Years Ago They Couldn’t, Today You Can – Vote.”
- Shared and maximized financial resources. This was accomplished through volume purchasing of buttons, t-shirts, and posters. Billboard placement was coordinated through casino marketing departments. Billboards were located on major highways throughout MN and one in a high visibility location in downtown Minneapolis.
- GOTNV ads were designed and placed in 200 newspapers throughout Minnesota in addition to tribal newspapers.
- Other activities included: Indian voter issues analysis, candidate forums, door knocking, literature drops, phone banks, rides to the polls, voter election protection, Election Day feasts, poll monitoring and post-election surveys.