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FARMINGTON — A forum at San Juan College discussed why participation by Native American and young voters matters at the ballot box.

Byron Tsabetsaye, director for the college's Native American Center, said the gathering provided students the opportunity to learn about voting, and why their votes count.

"As you probably know, or as you may have heard, Native Americans are underrepresented in many elections – including tribal elections," Tsabetsaye said during the event on Nov. 21.

That inadequate representation includes young people, he added.

For Navajo students, registering to vote for elections administered by the Navajo Election Administration goes beyond casting a ballot. The registration is required to qualify for scholarships under the Navajo Nation, Tsabetsaye said.

Students and members of the public can register to vote for Navajo Nation elections at the college, where five registrars are available.

History, and current obstacles

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton was among the guest speakers and talked about the history of the right to vote for Native Americans and current obstacles facing Native American voters.

Obstacles include possessing state-issued identification, listing physical addresses on voter registration applications and available transportation to voting locations.

"Many of our Navajo elders do not have a birth certificate to go and get a state driver's license, so this is one of the issues that we're running into on Navajo," Charles-Newton said.

On the Navajo Nation, tribal officials are working toward establishing a rural addressing system, she said.

Tables were set up during the forum for state and tribal voter registration, as well as for various voting organizations.

Aleta "Tweety" Suazo, chairwoman of the Native American Democratic Caucus of New Mexico, said the organization continues to work toward increasing voter participation in tribal communities.

They are also working toward a resolution in the New Mexico Legislature to recognize Miguel Trujillo Sr. on Aug. 3. This proposal is under development for the legislative session next year.

Trujillo, who was a member of Isleta Pueblo, filed the lawsuit that won Native Americans the right to vote in New Mexico in 1948.

The forum was part of Native American Heritage Month at the college, and it was the first time the Native American Center organized such an event.

For more information about registering for the tribe's elections, contact the Native American Center at 505-566-3321.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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