From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Voter-registration drive focuses on Native Americans

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Wed, 31 Mar 2004 15:24:34 -0600

March 31, 2004	News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.
7 E-mail: 7 ALL-NA{147}

NOTE: A photo is available at

By Shanta Bryant Gyan*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - United Methodists are working to mobilize thousands of
Native Americans to register to vote and become more politically active this

The voter-registration effort was highlighted at a March 30 press conference
launching Faithful Democracy, a nonpartisan, interfaith effort to get out the

During the event, the Rev. Chebon Kernell, a Native American pastor of Pawnee
Indian United Methodist Church, announced a "Rock the Native Vote" concert
and voter-registration and education project, sponsored by the Oklahoma
Indian Missionary Conference.

"Rock the Native Vote is an effort led by the faith community to excite
people, especially young people in the native community, to join in the
democratic process and let their voices be heard," said Kernell, who is also
director of Interpretation and Programs for the Oklahoma Indian Missionary
Conference, in a prepared statement. 

The Rock the Native Vote concert, set for June 5 in Oklahoma City, will
feature a lineup of popular Native American bands to appeal to new voters
ages 18 to 30. Artists range from hip-hop groups and contemporary rock to
reggae and blues.

The nonpartisan concert aims to encourage Native American young adults to
vote in the November presidential election and to create social change by
engaging in the political process. Concert organizers hope to register some
3,000 voters.

Besides Kernell, other interfaith leaders at the press conference included
the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist and top staff executive of the
National Council of Churches.

Workers with the Faithful Democracy project unveiled a Web site and other
voter resources, in addition to registering voters after the press
conference. The Rock the Native Vote project will have a link on the Faithful
Democracy site. The United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the
National Council of Churches, of which the denomination is a member, are
official sponsors of the project.

James Winkler, top staff executive of the Board of Church and Society, issued
a statement supporting the voter education initiative and committing the
denomination to promoting efforts to ensure voting-age United Methodists are
registered to vote. 

United Methodist voters must be aware of the issues being debated in this
year's elections and be able to cast votes "that are properly received and
counted," Winkler said.

"We look forward to a healthy, civil debate on the important issues facing
our world this year, and we will intentionally support efforts throughout our
churches to prayerfully consider these issues from a faith perspective," said
the head of the denomination's social action agency.

C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, stressed that the
coalition will not endorse party platforms, campaigns or candidates. "We will
not turn the sacred scriptures of our traditions into political footballs
tossed about to advance a partisan vote," Gaddy said.
Kernell said the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference's voter education
effort was organized to let the native community know that its vote matters
and to put elected officials on notice that the issues faced by ethnic groups
are not being addressed.

"The groups that are active in the political process and are in communication
with elected leaders get their issues addressed," Kernell said. "We have not
done that in the past."

The U.S. economy, loss of jobs and health care were cited as major national
issues impacting Native Americans, 30 percent of whom live in poverty. 

Budget cuts to social services, such as the Indian Health Service, a federal
health program for American Indians and Alaska natives, have significantly
affected native communities in the United States, Kernell said. 

In addition to the concert, the project will encourage Native Americans to
participate in seminars on civic participation and grass-roots advocacy

The Rock the Native Vote project is partially financed by an Ethnic Local
Church Grant of $20,000 from the Board of Church and Society. 

Neal Christie, a staff executive at the board, said the agency wanted the
grant to help the Native American community make a difference through a
long-term commitment to the democratic process. 

"It's all about empowering the Native American voice and engendering
citizenship," Christie said. He emphasized the project's merger of popular
culture, music and civic education to urge young people to vote in the
upcoming election.

Christie explained that the concert will kick off an ongoing effort to
educate native communities about the political process and how they can
advocate to their elected officials on Capitol Hill. 

A group from the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference will participate this
year in a seminar on civic participation organized by the board's seminar
office. The conference outreach will include nearly 90 Native American United
Methodist churches in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas.

Kernell hopes the conference's voter education effort will inspire other
native communities across the United States to become more engaged in
political action "to create a better society with peace and hope."
"We would like to see it grow. We want to raise the awareness as church
people, as United Methodists," he stated.

The concert lineup and information on Rock the Native Vote can be found at For more information on the Faithful Democracy
Project, visit

# # #

*Gyan is a freelance writer based in the Washington area.


United Methodist News Service
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