July 27 (UPI) -- Vice President Kamala Harris called for Congress to pass voting rights legislation Tuesday, during a conversation with tribal leaders about issues Native Americans face when voting.
Harris noted that one in three eligible Native American voters are not yet registered to vote, citing "a lack of access to the resources and facilities that allow people to get registered to vote."
"The United States has a very unique and very important nation-to-nation relationship with our tribal governments and I believe it is part of the solemn duty of the United States government to respect the sovereignty and the significance of those government-to-government relationships," Harris said.
Harris and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland met with President Kevin Killer, of the Ogala Lakota Nation in South Dakota, Allie Young of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Chairwoman Shelly Fyant of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana, Julie Kitka President of the Alaska Federation of Natives and Prairie Rose Seminole of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Mandan Hdasta and Arikara in North Dakota.
During the meeting, the leaders discussed how Native Americans "have long faced challenges to exercise their fundamental right to vote," Symone Sanders, chief spokeswoman for the vice president, said in a statement.
Since Native Americans gained the right to vote under the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, they have continued to face state laws and "Jim Crow-style policies" that denied them access to the ballot box as well as barriers including homelessness, lack of identification, or lack of access to polling places, Harris added.
Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, noted that "systematic barriers to accessing the ballot box for native people living on tribal lands" still exist today.
"In a country where tribal nations are credited with establishing the oldest participatory democracies in the world and where the Founding Fathers replicated tribes' fundamental democratic principles into our Constitution, it's long past time that we secure voting rights for people regardless of what community they are from," said Haaland. "Voting is sacred and must be treated accordingly."
Harris called on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, noting restrictive voting laws that have been passed in more than a dozen states since the 2020 election.
"Democracy is strongest for our country when everyone participates, it is weaker when anyone is denied the ability to participate," she said.