One of the most critical votes in recent American memory looms just hours away, and with it, an opportunity for Black and Indigenous peoples’ voices to be heard. For Native Americans, this election offers an especially poignant moment, though more than one million Indigenous Americans are not registered to vote. This disenfranchisement is part of a centuries-long legacy of violent subjugation, voter intimidation, and racist tactics on the part of the American government that have polluted the voting process for many Native Americans.
After the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, which gave Native Americans the right to vote, decades passed — including a World War in which tens of thousands of Native Americans fought — until the Voting Rights Act for Native Americans extended their right to vote in every state. It’s a historic context that colors the present moment; many Native Americans still face voter suppression through an array of explicit and implicit tactics, from voter ID laws to unequal access to in-person voting locations and a pandemic that has ravaged many tribal communities. Still, Native Americans represent what the Washington Post calls a “potent but untapped political force,” and have the potential to decide key Senate races in states like Montana, North Carolina, Arizona, and Maine, even in the face of ardent voter suppression.
With this backdrop, the nonprofit design lab Amplifier hopes to capture imaginations again. AMPLIFIER AR, its first-ever augmented reality app, launched days before the election, invites users to hear directly from Indigenous activists, artists, and movement leaders about issues impacting Indigenous people worldwide, from climate justice to the close ties between Black liberation and Indigenous sovereignty.
The project launched with four core works on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12, organized by Nia Tero, a US-based nonprofit dedicated to upholding Indigenous land rights, culture, and knowledge, as well as IllumiNative, a Native-led nonprofit launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society.
Fifty thousand print versions of these works were distributed around the country as posters and stickers, and as large-scale murals and projections in Seattle, Anchorage, Boulder, New York, Portland, and Los Angeles. Community groups have received printed posters as well. An interactive map displays where the public can find these works in their communities.
A work by Shepard Fairey, and three digital collage pieces by Mer Young featuring Black and Indigenous activists, are brought to life through augmented reality (AR). In these animated digital versions, viewers can also listen to voice-over recordings of activists like Nikkita Oliver and Tracy Rector, as they discuss the connections and commonality in the injustices that Black and Indigenous populations face.
“Native sovereignty and Black liberation are inextricably interconnected and necessary for us to realize a decolonized future together on Turtle Island…” a voice speaks out while stars sparkle behind the faces of Angela Davis and Pretty Nose; the word “SOLIDARITY” frames the image.
Shepard Fairey’s portrait of activist and hip-hop artist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez comes alive in AR to say describe to viewers the opportunity that this political moment represents for Indigenous youth, saying:
The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time, but it’s also our generation’s greatest opportunity to come together. We are flooding the streets, the courthouses and the voting booths by the millions. The power to make a difference doesn’t just come from political leaders, it comes from young people like you, your voice and your place in these movements is just as important if not more so than any political leader.
The images in this political art campaign, created for and by Indigenous people, also provide an alternative narrative to the long and insidious history of racist Native American imagery, which package for the greater public depictions of Indigenous people in deeply flawed Hollywood film portrayals; use Indigenous people in logos to sell products like butter; and normalize casual racism through sports mascots and costumes. Ahead of a critical election where climate, social justice, and an ongoing public health crisis are at stake, it’s an alternative campaign which foregrounds Native imagery of their own making, where their own voices are heard.