Meet Allie Young, the 30-year-old activist leading trail rides through Navajo Nation to get out the vote

Activist Allie Young is empowering voters by leading trail rides through Navajo Nation to the polls.
Talia Mayden for HUMAN

On Friday, 30-year-old activist Allie Young will lead a group of trail riders through Navajo Nation to help voters cast their ballots in the 2020 election on the last day of early voting in Arizona.

Young, a citizen of the Diné, or Navajo Nation, has been leading voter registration and other voting and census efforts throughout Indian Country through her organization Protect the Sacred.

Young says it was actually her dad's idea to organize the trail rides. He felt frustrated by the contentious political cycle and wasn't feeling motivated to vote in the election. However, he shared with Young that he had a vision of a group of riders traveling by horseback to the polls, which energized him and could help mobilize others, as well.

So last week, Young led her first "Ride to the Polls" effort and gathered a group of residents to cast their votes early. "Our Indigenous children across the country are feeling the urge to connect with our culture more than ever," Young says. "We thought this was a great way for them to feel inspired and motivated to vote in honor of our ancestors who rode longer miles to make their voices heard by voting at the polls."

"Rodeo culture is big in Native communities," she adds, "so that's something that gets people out whether it's bull riding, a rodeo or trail ride."

Riders are required to wear a mask and practice social distance, fortunately an easier task while on a horse.

Young sees connecting the culture of trail riding to the act of voting as an opportunity to engage Native American youth in her community, who are both the most Western-educated generation of Native Americans but also face extreme barriers to representation.

"Our youth are incredible. They're the ones who started Standing Rock, which became a worldwide movement," Young tells CNBC Make It, speaking of the movement opposing the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. "That just shows the power of Native voices. Our Native youth are more educated than ever in terms of Westernized education, and they have more of an urge to connect our cultures than ever before.

With that said, "there's a resistance to the colonial system that has never worked for us," Young continues. "In part I've had to say, 'Yes, I agree with you,' but at the same time, this election is too important to sit out." Young urges voters to exercise their right for representation on the issues that hit closest to home, many of which were laid bare during the coronavirus pandemic, such as a lack of quality health care; water infrastructure; broadband internet and electricity; and federal assistance to combat the health and economic consequences of the virus.

Young says her community is also concerned about climate change, and she supports candidates who are focused on sustaining employment while limiting industries that destroy natural resources, such as coal mining and fracking.

Engaging in the election also pays tribute those who have died from the coronavirus this year, Young adds. "I'm reminding my community: Let's remember what our elders have been through during this pandemic — the elders who lost their lives and are not able to vote."

'We've often been left out of the conversation completely, but I'm hopeful that is changing'

Barriers to voting have long existed for Native Americans.

Native Americans were legally named U.S. citizens in 1924, and their right to vote in U.S. elections in every state wasn't recognized until 1962, when Utah became the last to remove formal barriers.

"We've often been left out of the conversation completely, but I'm hopeful that is changing as we move forward," Young says. "We're excited to participate in this election to make our voices heard."

Allie Young hopes people will be motivated to travel to vote and pay homage to Native ancestors through her "Ride to the Polls" efforts.
Talia Mayden for HUMAN

She already voted early on Oct. 20 after riding with a group by horse to the Kayenta Township, Arizona, one of the handful of voting sites and drop box locations available to the 175,000 people living on the reservation spread across the 27,000 square miles (roughly the size of West Virginia). While preparing for the ride, she realized the voting site ended its operations on that day, Oct. 20 — a full 10 days before early voting officially closes in Arizona on Oct. 30. She worries limited voting site hours will discourage residents from making it to the polls.

Safety precautions to curb the spread of Covid-19 present their own challenges. While tens of millions of Americans have taken advantage of expanded mail-in voting, sparse post offices on the reservation means some Native American voters do not receive their ballots with enough time to mail them back to be counted.

The Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation alone is 18,000 square miles and larger than any other reservation in the country. It has only 27 postal locations, which is roughly equivalent to the entire state of New Jersey having just 13 mail boxes for residents, according to The New York Times.

So while Young is leading her last trail ride to the Navajo Country Recorder's Office in Holbrook, Arizona, as early voting in the state closes this week, she is in the process of discussing ways to transport people in rural communities to the polls on Election Day with organizers from groups like When We All Vote and March On the Polls.

Allie Young casts her vote early in Arizona alongside a group of residents across Navajo Nation.
Talia Mayden for HUMAN

Young also works for Harness, a nonprofit founded by America Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama and Ryan Piers Williams that amplifies the stories of historically marginalized communities in media. This year marks the fourth general election she has voted in, and a run for political office isn't out of the question.

"In Navajo Nation, we have our own tribal government, and people will ask, 'Are you trying to run for office?'" Young says. "I'm not opposed to it. What matters most to me is strengthening our communities as Native people. I want to hold elected officials accountable."

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