Two years ago, when Chase Iron Eyes decided to run for Congress, he knew he had, as he puts it, “a snowball’s chance in hell” of winning. But Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, still saw the narrowest of paths to victory in the race for North Dakota’s sole congressional seat. If he and the two other Native American candidates running for state offices as Democratic nominees were able to boost Native American voter turnout while simultaneously convincing independent-minded undecided voters to break their way, he explained, he thought he might win. Instead, incumbent Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican, coasted to another term by a huge margin.
Turnout in Sioux County, composed of the North Dakota side of the Standing Rock reservation, where Iron Eyes lives, ticked up slightly over the 2012 presidential election, yet the county still recorded the second lowest turnout in the state that year.
Standing Rock, 2.3 million acres sprawling across the North Dakota-South Dakota state line, is now known worldwide for the protests over the Dakota Access pipeline, which were ongoing in the period leading up to the 2016 elections.
But the advocates and celebrities who flooded into the region have nearly all left. And Standing Rock’s own energy and activism hasn’t translated to the ballot box, for reasons both recent and ancient.