On Tuesday May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters were asked to vote in the state’s primary elections. Large numbers of people turned out for the main issue of the day, the N.C. Marriage Amendment. On the voter’s ballot, there was a simple proposition: Are you for or against the N.C. Marriage Amendment. The amendment, effectively, denies any future changes in state law that would condone and support gay or lesbian marriages (or, maybe more specifically, marriages not between a man and woman).
With the N.C. Marriage Amendment vote one week in the past, I decided to look at some of the statistics from this important political event. My recent dissertation research took place in Robeson County, North Carolina. Robeson County dons a population that is comprised of Native Americans (primarily Lumbee Indians), Black Americans, and White Americans in relatively equal proportions. There are also small numbers of people from other ethnicities and nationalities. The county has the highest concentration of Native Americans in North Carolina and in any county/region in the U.S. South. About 46,000 of 126,000 total Robeson County residents are Native American.
Robeson County had the second highest percentage of voters in favor of the N.C. marriage amendment, coming in at 86% in favor. The highest percentage of voters for the amendment came from Graham County at 89%. Graham County is a much smaller county in the Appalachian Mountains.
I have been considering what the vortex of Native American community and the relatively high voter turnout for the marriage amendment means. Other counties, made up primarily of White and Black citizens, had much lower numbers of votes for the amendment. As you can see on the map, the state’s average was well below 86%, and most counties fell in the range from 70-80 percent of voters for the amendment.
So, how do we explain what is arguably the most socially conservative county in North Carolina in terms of its core Native American community? We are taught to think that conservatism is a White, Southern element of U.S. society. Well, you can’t deny the Southern element in this case. Lumbee people will tell you that they are absolutely Southern. However, there is something much more than Southern conservatism here. Lumbee people and other peoples in Robeson County share the same Christian denominations as other people in North Carolina ( for example: Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, Church of God, and many other denominations). Since they share the same denominations, church affiliation becomes a non-factor (relatively speaking).
We are then left with the notion that what we would otherwise consider Southern conservatism lies squarely within (yes within) Native American community. It is not something that can be excused as oppressive to the Native community. Rather, Native American people, in this case, possess within their community something that is illustrated by a high percentage of votes for a marriage amendment that states opposition to gay or lesbian marriage in North Carolina.
That’s why I was slightly concerned when political voices against and for the amendment did not consider the Native American vote in North Carolina. In fact, the Native American vote was quite substantial in at least 8 counties in North Carolina. The head of the NAACP of North Carolina, William Barber, in his plead for Black voters to vote against the amendment, did not reference the substantial numbers of Native American people who had stakes in the marriage amendment.
See video here: http://www.youtube.com/watchNR=1&feature=endscreen&v=3GrnJQ83zIo
In Barber’s words, a vote for the amendment is a stance that works against the fight for Civil Rights in the United States. While he speaks particular truths in this statement, he (like many other voices, including former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama) did not consider the ways that strong, dichotomous issues, such as the N.C. marriage amendment, actually reflect how Native American society breathes and lives (quite substantially) through popular American politics.
But how are we to know this if we consistently hear important voices, such as the one that belongs to Rev. Barber, dismiss Native America in their appeals during these political debates?