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Arizona tribes are still trying to access the ballot box a century after Indian Citizenship Act

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

The Indian Citizenship Act was passed by Congress a century ago Sunday. It helped pave the way toward accessing the ballot box across Indian Country, but that constitutional right still wasn’t guaranteed for tribes in Arizona until decades later.

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law’s Indian Legal Clinic at Arizona State University hosted a weeklong webinar series reflecting on the act’s complicated legacy.

Although this landmark bill granted U.S. citizenship to tribal members, the right to vote — at least in Arizona — had to be fought for in the courts.

Two members of GRIC, or the Gila River Indian Community, Peter Porter and Rudolph Johnson, were turned away from registering to vote in Pinal County ahead of the 1928 presidential election. They lost a lawsuit that was eventually overturned two decades later by the Arizona Supreme Court on July 15, 1948.

“Natives in Arizona were afforded full voting rights in both state and federal elections,” said GRIC Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, “24 years after the Indian Citizenship Act was passed. For many of us, this is our grandparents’ and our parents' generation.”

Tohono O’odham Nation member Jason Chavez, director of tribal affairs for the Governor’s Office, also read a portion of a new proclamation that Gov.  Katie Hobbs issued to remember this historic date.

“The 100th anniversary of the Indian Citizenship Act marks a time for reflection on the progress made to ensure equal citizenship for Native Americans,” said Chavez, “despite countless of historical injustices, and on the barriers to equal citizenship that remain for our Native American citizens.”

Today, Native Americans make up about 4% of the state’s population.

Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.