In the lifelessness of the recession, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been a loud expression of frustration that many ordinary Americans are feeling toward economic and social injustices.
Along with successfully creating a movement, Occupy Wall Street has reminded many ordinary citizens of the power of voice and the freedom to voice opinions for change.
Occupy Wall Street came up in discussion at Native America Speaks, a digital conference presented by the Native American Voter’s Alliance on Saturday, October 8. The goal of the conference was to survey Native Americans in New Mexico and ask for opinions related to education, economics, healthcare and politics. The conference was held on the Institute of American Indian Arts campus.
Laurie Weahkee, a member of the NAVA organization, explained the reason for picking the IAIA campus, one of four locations connected through teleconference technology. “We aimed at picking places with a high Native American population, and places that would be accessible for Native American people,” she says.
The conference aimed at putting together a wide audience to answer questions and voice opinions about issues regarding Native American communities in New Mexico. “We really wanted an intergenerational audience,” Weahkee stated. “That audience included voters and non-voters, elders and professionals, a little bit of everybody.”
Before the agenda of Native America Speaks began, Eudora Claw, a student at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, let participants know that she arrived with opinions and a voice. “I don’t know why they have ceremonial events so close to the other events,” she states in regards to the start of traditional winter ceremonies taking place inside the Shiprock fair grounds. “They should really think about moving them to a different location.”
NAVA uses outreach techniques to speak to youth, especially those in high school and tribal colleges. “With the most recent conference, we wanted to use and apply the information-gathering effect to put structure to speculation in our communities. We want to know what is on people’s minds,” Weahkee explains.
Kateri Menominee, a senior at IAIA, attended the conference and heard about it through students volunteering for NAVA, one of whom was Claw.
After being provided with a phone, Kateri was asked to participate in a poll that surveyed different areas applicable to Native American communities. Questions included “Do you feel that ‘living wage’ is an Indian issue?” and “What issues do you think are most-overlooked by tribal leaders?”
“This experience helped me understand the opportunity we have as Native people to voice what needs to change in the government,” Kateri continues, “It made me think about how voting is taken for granted.”
While Occupy Wall Street is demonstrating young people speaking on behalf of a large percentage of America, the Native American Voters Alliance has always been interested in change locally, eager to find ways to get Native Americans more involved in community issues. Their missions states, “Our Mission is to organize a Native American Electorate that is informed, active and empowered to create and implement a civic agenda that will improve the quality of life for Indian families living in New Mexico.”
As the agenda moved on and dialogue spanned across the tables in the upstairs CLE room between polled questions, Eudora listened intently to other participants, and spoke when stirred by the conversations. “It’s always been important that our voices are heard,” she stated. “It’s an important aspect to create dialogue in sacred spaces.”