Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

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January 17, 2022

Today, the National Indian Gaming Association celebrates and honors the strength and perseverance of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King dedicated his life to achieving justice for all, a cause that ended his life. He was the most visible spokesman and leader in the American civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968.

Dr. King was responsible for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in the workforce and public accommodations based on “race, color, religion, or national origin.” The Voting Rights Act protects all Americans’ right to vote.

On Friday, January 14, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation to acknowledge the Federal Holiday to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy. President Biden proclaimed, “On a late summer day in 1963, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stood on the National Mall before hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who had gathered to march for freedom, justice, and equality. On that day, Dr. King shared a dream that has continued to inspire a Nation: To bring justice where there is injustice, freedom where there is oppression, peace where there is violence, and opportunity where there is poverty. Today, people of all backgrounds continue that march — raising their voices to confront abuses of power, challenge hate and discrimination, protect the right to vote, and access quality jobs, health care, housing, and education. On this day, we reflect on the legacy of a man who issued a call to the conscience of our Nation and our world.”

Dr. King believed so firmly not only in his values of social justice, but he also knew that in the face of injustice, no moral man or woman could stay silent, and he paid for it with his life.

King said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” King’s words ring as true today as ever.

As Native Americans, we continue to honor and revere Dr. King for his commitment to justice for all Americans. Dr. King taught us all to stand united in the face of injustice. He knew that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” At a time when many in Indian Country still lacked the ability to exercise their voting rights, Dr. King stood with us—forcing all Americans to confront the past and the truth.

In his 1963 book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” writing about the origins of racism in America, King wrote the following:

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today, we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”

We must continue to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice and achieving Dr. King’s Dream and ensure that all indigenous peoples’ cultures, customs, language, and ways of life are honored, respected, and heard.

Dr. King’s lifelong passion and commitment to securing equality for all and equal access for all at the ballot box is under direct attack. In 2021, 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions. Sadly, these attacks will only increase in the year ahead.

In his 1957 “Give Us The Ballot” speech, Dr. King stressed the critical importance of equal voting rights. King said, “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.”

As we continue to face the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead, we must stay inspired by the life-long dedication of Dr. Martin Luther King. Despite all these attempts at restricting our votes, the right to vote is the most fundamental right and duty we have as American citizens, and it is the most solid foundation of our government. As citizens, it is our responsibility to exercise our voice in helping determine the future of our country.

On November 8, 2022, it is time again to go to the polls to vote in midterm elections honoring the words of Dr. King and, as we did in 2020, honor the sacrifices of our ancestors who secured the voting rights for us all. The Native American strength at the polls can determine whose voices will ring in the halls of Congress and Local, City, County, and State governments in 2022. We will once again have the opportunity to elect federal policy leaders in Congress who will support vital issues impacting Native communities. This election will have wide-ranging impacts and consequences on our efforts to advance Native communities nationwide.

Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired a national awareness of social injustice, which we all continue to fight today. Like King, all throughout Indian Country, our history shows generations of tribal leaders, traditional leaders, and Native American civil rights leaders who have gotten us to where we are today with individual passions and common interests – that of building upon a fair, just, and equitable nation for all. We are a world of color, made up of all nationalities, beliefs, history, and traditions, with one common denominator, a love of country.

While today we see the resurgence of old challenges of yesteryear, we will not be deterred. Each of us has a responsibility to continue to help move this world forward in a dignified and unified way, inspired by the momentum of great leaders of change who stood for us – before us, like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Always remember the powerful word of the late Congressman John Lewis, “We are not going back, we are going forward.”

The National Indian Gaming Association commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his example as a peaceful yet assertive advocate for equality. We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his commitment to civil rights from all walks of life.