Alaskans react to CNN poll labeling Native voters ‘something else’

Screen capture of CNN on Election Night 2020.

Native communities in Alaska and around the country responded to a graphic in CNN’s Tuesday election coverage labeling voters that don’t identify as white, Black, Latino or Asian as “something else.” 

The gaffe led to the hashtag #SomethingElse trending among Natives on social media calling out the cable news network for its ignorance. 

While many Native voices made light of the situation with comedic memes and tweets, others said they were frustrated with the continued Native erasure.

Barbara Wáahlaal Gíidaak Blake was checking her social media feed early Thursday morning when she noticed posts referencing CNN’s poll graphic.

“It was rough to be to see our population ‘invisiblilized,” she said. “It seemed to perpetuate the erasure of indigenous people as we stand today in this great land.”

Blake, who is Haida, Tlingit and Ahtna, is the director of the Alaska Native Policy Center with the First Alaskans Institute. She said given that Alaska Natives are almost 20% of the state’s population and Native voters have made an impact nationally, it’s time for the Native vote to be recognized.

“Our voter contribution, oftentimes the swing vote in many states, needs to be acknowledged. It needs to be uplifted and recognized in a manner that upholds the 10,000 years of existence that our people have held on these lands,” Blake said.

X̱’unei Lance Twitchell is a professor of  Alaska Native Languages Arts and Sciences at the University of Alaska Southeast. He’s also Tlingit, Haida and Yup’ik.

“The way it contributes to erasure is that we don’t get to be part of the graphic,” Twitchell said. “We don’t get to be part of the analysis as far as indigenous peoples, and we should be.”

But Twitchell said the memes created with #SomethingElse did make a difference. His team has also translated the phrase in Tlingit.

“The humor is really fun because I think indigenous peoples are really good at taking something and to make it into something funny,” said Twitchell. “But then to see once you run it through our language, how it becomes a statement of inclusivity and importance.”

Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton was monitoring election coverage when she noticed a screenshot of the graphic on her feed.

“It’s 2020 and we’re still seeing folks refer to voters who don’t neatly fall into one of four categories as ‘something else.’ It’s one thing to be referred to as other, which is still problematic in and of itself,” Krehbiel-Burton said. “But to see that like to see that label, it was a slap in the face, frankly. ”

Krehbiel-Burton is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the vice president of the Native American Journalists Association. The organization put out a statement saying the cable news network’s graphic is a clear example of Native erasure.

“We did receive an email,” she said. “It did not include an apology.”

Krehbiel-Burton also said CNN has contributed to NAJA’s scholarship fund, but that was 15 years ago.

As of Friday, CNN apologized for the graphic according to the LA Times.

The Canada-based Aboriginal People’s Television Network also received a statement from CNN saying the network corrected the graphic. It said the network did not “intend to minimize the importance of indigenous communities and the Native American vote.”