Road to November: Getting Out the Vote on the Reservation


On a cloudy, misty afternoon on the Lac du Flambeau reservation, Matt Dannenberg and Adrian King stopped people outside the Ojibwe Market as they left the store.

Dannenberg is the Central Wisconsin Organizer for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, which is running the Pow Wow the Vote program. It’s a nonpartisan state campaign aimed at getting 50% of Native Americans to vote in November. Dannenberg says the Native ethnicity is the least likely to vote in presidential elections, with a typical voter turnout of around 38%.

He hopes his work will have an impact this during the upcoming election. “When they realize that this is a buzz and they can actually do things that matter and that their voice counts. They’re going to take that action,” he said.

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After trying to stop several people outside the market, one who was leaving the market with soup and crackers finally answered Dannenberg’s question.

“Do you plan on voting November 6th?” he asked.

The man said “no” because he doesn’t participate in state or federal elections. While he does vote in tribal elections, he said he didn’t care about much beyond that because he doesn’t think tribes have representation at the state or federal level.

Dannenburg said many who live in Lac du Flambeau feel the same way. Many say politicians are corrupt.

Pow Wow the Vote volunteer Adrian King says he used to feel that way. He’s always cared about the environment and says he realized he needed to start voicing his concerns for it.

He thinks his vote can make a difference and wants others on the reservation to see that, too.

“I like to see people have hope. I like to be a part of people’s hope too, and change,” he said.

Inside the Ojibwe Market, 26 year-old Philip Batiste and his friend were buying ingredients to make biscuits and gravy. Batiste said he’ll be voting for President Obama, mostly because he pushed through the Cobell settlement, a class action law-suit which argued that the federal government mismanaged billions of dollars in Native American land trusts.

Batiste says that because of Obama, that money is now being allotted to certain tribes. “No other president really helped us out like he [President Obama] did.”

He wasn’t the only one in the store who thinks President Obama is in tune with Native American Voters.

Maareeny Thao was standing by the cash register at the front of the store eating venison and wild rice soup for lunch. She’s the single mother of three and has never voted. This year is different.

Governor Romney offends her. She didn’t like his comments about the 47-percent of Americans who don’t pay taxes. “Native Americans don’t have to pay taxes, so he qualified them as moochers and freeloaders. That’s not fair,” she said, “They don’t have to pay taxes. They were here first.”

Thao and other tribal members don’t have to pay state taxes, they do have to pay federal taxes.

Across the street at the Lake of the Torches Resort and Casino, a long line was forming as people were eagerly waiting for the five dollar, all-you-can-eat buffet. Some in the line disagreed with those at the market about President Obama being the best choice for president.

Leroy Last lives in the Campbellsport area, and was in town for a few days with his wife. He says Obama hasn’t done anything in four years. He supports Romney and says he’ll be able to create jobs.

“He’s an excellent businessman and has proven himself in the past where Obama has been nothing,” Last said. “He never had a decent job and has no experience in business.”

Bob Halder of Boudler Junction was also with his wife at the casino. He says he primarily wants to see spending cuts. But, he’s also concerned about gun rights. “I don’t want to see any infringement on the Second Amendment,” he said.

This story is part of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Road to November series. Reporters Maureen McCollum and Lindsey Moon are traveling north along Highway 51 talking to voters about the election all this week. What issue is most important to you? Find updates from the road on WPRNews’ Facebook page.