It’s common among Natives to say that the Indian Wars have never really ended. To an outsider, that may be a strange thing to hear, even humorous. But if the wars were ways to subdue Native people through violence, intimidation, and laws that keep them in a perpetual oppressed and subordinate station, then we can see that they are still being waged, only the tactics have changed.
Racism in 2018 doesn’t look like what it did in 1960. Our education helps us to identify what racism used to look like and hopefully not to repeat it and reject it if it surfaces. But racism is dynamic. It’s adaptive. It changes with the times and seasons, but the principles remain: that one group is superior in one or multiple ways, that systems have been built around that group to ensure they maintain power, that ideologies are constructed to justify this arrangement and normalize it, and that subordinate racial and ethnic groups are kept from experiencing equality at multiple levels and across various social institutions. Where one technique fails, a new one often emerges to replace it. And for the most part, the vast majority of us are unaware of its existence and how it manifests itself. We are rendered racially illiterate.
Enter San Juan County.
The Native peoples in this corner of Utah have endured oppression and racism long after the rest of the country has tried to move forward. For most people in the rest of the United States, the idea of voter suppression seems a relic of the past and it is equally strange to hear that an elected county official committed illegal actions to keep a person of color from running for office. But this is the long and painful reality of a people who have long been denied justice.
San Juan County Clerk, John Nielson, deliberately and forcefully broke the law to ensure that Mr. Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo, would never see his name on the ballot. And that despite the efforts of the courts to undo racially gerrymandered county commissioner districts, the oppression would continue and the intimidation persist. The objective was that in no way would Natives be allowed to seat a majority on the county commission.
This is a despicable act. It is tragic. It’s disappointing and frustrating. It’s undemocratic. And this has everything to do with race.
Isn’t it enough that settlers come in, take the Native peoples’ land, lay claim to their resources, impose a government and economy that systematically disenfranchises them, silence and ignore their voices, and then have the audacity to make the claim that it is somehow their own fault for their condition?
The answer: No. It’s not enough.
It very much appears that the old guard will fight every step of the way, make it as difficult as possible for justice to prevail, and feign victimhood as if they are the ones somehow being oppressed. They will push every small act they can to make it as difficult as possible for any semblance of equality to materialize. This is a textbook example of corruption, the manifestation of authoritarian tendencies, and a very real threat to democracy. So what is to be done?
There are calls and will be more for Mr. Nielson to resign his office. And frankly, that is the least thing he can do. He should be tried for his crimes. I would lay the challenge to him to examine the basic precepts of democracy and leadership, and perhaps one day, become an advocate for equality after he pays his debt to society. Maybe that is wishful thinking on my part, but I believe that people can change. It would definitely be something both our peoples would need for healing.
In the meantime, the movement towards justice will continue pressing forward. The power accumulated over time in this forgotten corner of Utah has gone unchecked long enough and we will be watching.
We will watch to see that polling locations are open, accessible, and functioning with enough ballots for voters.
We will watch to see that there will be in-person assistance, along with materials and election information in the Navajo language as protected and assured by law.
We will watch to see if the county will find ways to engage in voter suppression.
These aren’t empty threats to instill fear or to intimidate. These are basic and fundamental rights that all Americans are entitled to under the Constitution. We simply want to assure that our democracy functions as it should.
I was pleased by the resiliency and poise of Mr. Grayeyes when I met with him yesterday: “People tell me I should strike back right now, but why would I do that? If I get into office, the people who I would go after will be the people I will serve later on,” he said. “We need to show healing. We need to treat the root of the problem, not just cover up the symptoms temporarily.”
So to the elected leaders of San Juan County, I implore you to be proactive in bringing about the ideals this nation is founded upon: equality, justice, freedom, and democracy. Stop putting roadblocks in the way of helping us overcome and bridge the divides of the past. That is real leadership. Rise to the challenge.
For Media Inquiries
James in the News
Here you'll find articles about James' work in the community and news on his political endeavors.
Aug. 17, 2018 | KZMU Moab: News Earful with 3rd District Candidate James Singer
Aug. 16, 2018 | Moab Times-Independent: Meet James Singer
Aug. 16, 2018 | Moab Sun News: James Singer campaigns in Moab
Aug. 15, 2018 | KUER (NPR Affiliate): Navajo Candidate James Singer Highlights Bears Ears In Run For Congress
Aug. 1, 2018 | KBOO Portland: From Shrinking Bears Ears, Approving Pipelines, and Pocahontas: What Trump Means to Indian Country
Jul. 23, 2018 | Millennial Politics: These Three Indigenous Democratic Congressional Candidates Want to #AbolishICE
Jul. 16, 2018 | Two Broads Talking Politics: The Utah Democrats
Jul. 16, 2018 | Millennial Politics: James Singer: Indigenous Environmentalist Democratic Socialist for Congress in Utah's 3rd
Jul. 12, 2018 | Indian Country Today: A plan for Indian nations and democracy in the 21st century: Indian Country should have fair representation in Congress; that's the democratic promise.
Jun. 24, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: Commentary: As the Democrat in the race, I'd rather debate Curtis.
Apr. 9, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: Commentary: Sexual violence and harassment are men’s issues. And they’re leadership issues. Rep. John Curtis shows a lack of leadership on a serious issue.
Mar. 6, 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune: To ‘help forge our path of healing forward’ after Bears Ears, Utah tribal leaders are asking for a place on the governor’s cabinet.
Mar. 6, 2018 | KUER: Tribal Groups, House Dems Call For Creation Of Indian Affairs Cabinet Position
Oct. 9, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: American Indians gather to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Salt Lake City
Oct. 3, 2017 | City Weekly: SL Council Welcomes Indigenous Peoples Day
Sep. 18, 2017 | UPR: The Wellsville Sham Battle On Monday's Access Utah
Sep. 6, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: It’s 2017, but people in Utah still put on ‘redface’ for an inaccurate re-creation of an American Indian vs. Mormon battle
Jun. 8, 2017 | The Daily Universe: Navajo man seeks Senate diversity, challenges Hatch
May 5, 2017 | KUER: Navajo Candidate Latest In Young, Progressive Democrats Running For Congress
May 4, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: Navajo candidate announces bid as Democrat for Hatch's seat
Apr. 27, 2017 | Cache Valley Daily: Navajo candidate announces bid for U.S. Senate
Jan. 27, 2017 | City Weekly: "Make America Smart Again" Water protectors congregate to denounce Trump's DAPL reignition
Jan. 17, 2017 | Salt Lake Tribune: It's 'more than just clean water now': Utah activists protest Dakota Access Pipeline
Oct 31, 2016 | FOX 13: Police make several arrests in Dakota Access Pipeline protest in SLC
Oct. 12, 2015 | UPR: Cultural Appropriation on Monday's Access Utah