New mural at Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center encourages Native Americans in Milwaukee to vote
On a sunny fall Friday, about 50 people gathered in the parking lot of the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center.
The sound of prayers, drummers, jingle dress dancers, and speakers filled the air and a large mural depicted a jingle dress dancer standing colorful and looking proud.
Multiple community leaders spoke, discussing issues such as the environment and democracy. But the Native American relationship with health care was especially stressed.
Steve Ninhem is the chairman of the board for the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center. He noted that many people who built the center understood the need for healing. That’s why the voter event was held at the site.
"Well, health, it's important for everybody to get health care... dental, behavioral health, your physical [check up] every year. It's just something that's always been overlooked, even by non-natives. So it is especially important to get the word out and to have that right here in our parking lot. You know the health care issue is just getting that out to the community. It speaks volumes," Ninhem said.
Anne Egan-Waukau also spoke. She’s the urban organizer for Milwaukee's Native Vote.
She echoed Ninhem's call for equitable health care for the Native American community. Egan-Waukau said the average life expectancy of a Native American is 65 years old. That compares to the life expectancy of 77 years old nationally. So, she says the community needs to vote in order to advocate for health programs.
Egan-Waukau recalled walking into her polling place years ago and being told by the poll worker that Indians don’t vote.
She declared that the Wisconsin Native Vote works to ensure that will never happen again, and that Native people feel comfortable and proud to cast their ballots.
Egan-Waukau was pleased by support at the event from members of the Apache, Menominee and Ho-Chunk nations.
"You know I put tobacco down and prayed to the creator and I can't believe the people. I'm so humbled by this but again, it's not about me. This is for them and and that's where they came. I prayed to the creator for a beautiful day and look at this day—It couldn't be any better," says Egan-Waukau.
Egan-Waukau says she wants Native Americans to know that they can register at the polls and she hopes each voter takes one, five or ten people along to vote on Election Day.