Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

North Dakota’s Voter ID Law Threatens to Silence Native Americans

by RUTH HOPKINS

One would think that if you’re a U.S. Congressman who insulted your state’s largest minority population and threatened bodily injury to their Tribally-elected leaders while in the process of verbally assaulting a Native American woman at a very public state coalition meeting for Abused Women’s Services that you would apologize.  That would be the smart, decent thing to do, right?

Apparently North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer doesn’t think so.  On March 26, 2013, he spent nearly half an hour laying into Melissa Merrick, the Director of the Spirit Lake Victim Assistance Program.  She’s also a tribal member who happens to be a survivor of child sexual abuse.  During that time, Cramer reportedly stated in front of a roomful of domestic violence advocates that he wanted to “wring the Spirit Lake tribal council’s necks and slam them against the wall.”  He also called tribal governments dysfunctional, and went on a tirade against provisions in the Violence Against Women Act that are meant to protect Native American women.  His tantrum was so disturbing that attendees at the meeting got up and left.  By the time the dust settled, another Native American woman present was in tears.

Cramer had no problem addressing the media once the story broke- but instead of apologizing for his verbal attack and decidedly inappropriate behavior, he took the opportunity to reiterate his anger towards North Dakota tribes and personally assail Ms. Merrick even further, at one point saying “once a victim, always a victim” about her on a news program broadcast out of Fargo, N.D.  Furthermore, Cramer, to this day, has never denied that he threatened tribal leaders with physical violence.

North Dakota tribes were outraged.  They responded to the incident via press releases asking for a formal apology from Representative Cramer, and requesting a meeting with him.  So far, those pleas have gone unanswered.

According to Melissa, Cramer, a Republican, hasn’t apologized privately either.  “I have not spoken to Congressman Cramer since the NDCAWS meeting in Bismarck when the incident occurred,” Ms .Merrick says.  “I’ve read the papers, listened to a radio show and heard that he’s apologized for his ‘tone,’ but even that didn’t sound like a real apology.  He said that he was thinking on a bigger scale and I couldn’t help getting upset due to my ‘tribal side’- but he nor his staff have not contacted me.  I have not heard that he’s contacted the North Dakota tribes either.”

Congressman Cramer’s unwillingness to apologize or meet with North Dakota Tribes seems especially unwise because North Dakota Natives are more politically active than ever and are now voting in record numbers.  In the 2012 Senatorial election, North Dakota counties containing reservations all voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, who won that seat by a small margin that would not have existed but for Natives who cast their ballot for her.  In short, those who run for office in the State of North Dakota can’t afford to ignore the Native vote any longer.

But wait- hold the phone.  On April 3, 2013, a mere EIGHT DAYS after Cramer’s outburst, the North Dakota Senate passed HB1332, a bill that makes presenting an ID mandatory in order to vote.

Voter ID laws are controversial because many believe they disenfranchise legitimate elderly, student, and minority voters.  Discouraging even a small percentage of citizens from casting their vote at the ballot box could sway any election, particularly in a hotly-contested race.  North Dakota’s electoral landscape is relatively unique, too.  Our voting population is much smaller.  We have only one U.S. House Representative.  Right now, that’s Kevin Cramer.

While supporters say Voter ID laws are necessary to combat voter fraud, studies show the “problem” is virtually non-existent.  One analysis by News21 identified only 10 cases of voter fraud out of 2, 068 alleged cases- which equates to only 1 out of every 15 million prospective voters.

When asked if she thought there’s a possible connection between Cramer’s recent verbal barrage against Native Americans in North Dakota and the sudden push for new Voter ID laws in the state, Melissa Merrick says, “When I spoke up against the Congressman, I knew there may be consequences for speaking the truth.  What I didn’t foresee was the fear of the others in the room-so much so that they were afraid to publicly confirm the Congressman’s actions.  They were afraid of being attacked by the media as they watched me being attacked.  They were also afraid of losing funding if they spoke up.  I did not think that there would be any sort of backlash because it seemed to be focused on me.  Tribes issued statements calling for a meeting with the Cramer and asking for an apology, but nothing has happened.  The timing of this Voter ID requirement bill seems a bit too coincidental.”  She continued, “I see this type of ‘punishment’ in the work that I do.  When a victim of abuse finally has the courage to speak the truth about the abuser, punishments in all forms are brought forward, all of which are meant to stop the victim from speaking, to regain control, to intimidate, and most importantly to send the message of who has the power and control and who does not.”

However, this fight is far from over.  Should the Voter ID bill become law, tribes are prepared to challenge it.  On its face, it appears the proposed bill probably violates provisions in the Federal Voting Rights Act that allow for the use of tribal IDs.  Natives intend to protect their voting rights, so Cramer might want to rethink his stance on refusing to apologize to Ms. Merrick and North Dakota Natives.  On the other hand, some tribal elders are saying that too much time has passed and any words he says now would ring hollow- the damage has been done.  Next election, we’ll voice our opinion on the matter, in droves.

Ruth Hopkins is a Native American writer, blogger, Judge, administrator, a founding writer at Lastrealindians.com, and columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network.

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is an author, blogger, biologist, activist, judge, columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, and founding writer with Lastrealindians.com.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail