NACDI receives national honor for promoting Native voting

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By Lee Egerstrom

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon presented a national award to the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) on Indigenous Peoples Day (Oct. 9) for its efforts in expanding voter education and getting Minnesota’s Native people more involved in their civic affairs.

While voter education isn’t easy to quantify, getting voters registered to vote can be counted. A year ago, for instance, NACDI’s Make Voting a Tradition program got 2,000 Native Minnesotans squared away to vote, said Darek Delille (Bad River Ojibwe) , manager of the nine-year-old NACDI program.

By October this year, more than 2,500 more Native Minnesotans had registered. “We’re running ahead,” he said. “It keeps gaining.”

That is one important part but not the entirety of the voting program, or MVAT, that Delille and colleagues promote to make Native Minnesotans more visible in public affairs. It takes civic engagement to not become invisible to the people shaping programs and policies.
“Strengthening democratic participation demands community engagement and trust,” NACDI explains on its website. “MVAT in particular draws people into the process of defining the future of their community and builds ownership of the solutions required to reach that future.”

The combined goals of the program has been nationally noted. Secretary Simon presented the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) Medallion Award to NACDI, noting that its program has grown civic participation from its base in the American Indian Cultural Corridor in south Minneapolis on out throughout the state.

Simon said the Make Voting a Tradition program “is a national model of a voter outreach effort that carefully considers the needs and wants of the community.”

This, he said, has increased awareness and participation in local elections “while empowering community members to take part in our shared democracy.”

The national Medallion Award is given to individuals, groups or organizations that promote one of more goals of the NASS. These include programs promoting voter education and participation; civic education, including teaching and promotion; service to state government, specifically to the duties of secretaries of state; and a commitment to giving to improve the quality of life for a local or regional area within, or for an entire state.
Simon’s announcement of the award to NACDI noted the group has increased voter turnout and civic engagement in its community with “culturally specific, year-around, multi-generational outreach.”

Delille said NACDI has been expanding beyond its Cultural Corridor home base and is working with tribal organizations and other civic groups to expand the Make Voting a Tradition program reach more people.

Tribal groups have similar programs on reservations, he said. But they don’t always reach people in nearby off-reservation communities such as Bemidji, Duluth or Moorhead.
Working with Delille at NACDI is Jolene Jones, the Make Voting a Tradition manager. She is Ojibwe and a life-long resident of Little Earth of United Tribes housing in Minneapolis.
Pitching in when needed, Delille said, are Alex Buffalohead (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate), the NACDI director of communications; and the crew from NACDI’s Development department.  John Williams (Cheyenne River Lakota), is the NACDI vice president of Development.