Category Archives: Politics

Obama: A full partnership with Indian country

http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/opinion/33211544.html

By Barack Obama
Story Published: Oct 24, 2008
For 20 months now, I’ve traveled this country, often talking about how the needs of the American people are going unmet by Washington. And the truth is, few have been ignored by Washington for as long as American Indians. Too often, Washington pays lip service to working with tribes while taking a one-size-fits-all approach with tribal communities across the nation.

That will change if I am honored to serve as president of the United States.

My American Indian policy begins with creating a bond between an Obama administration and the tribal nations all across this country. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship, and I will make sure that tribal nations have a voice in the White House.

I’ll appoint an American Indian policy adviser to my senior White House staff to work with tribes, and host an annual summit at the White House with tribal leaders to come up with an agenda that works for tribal communities. That’s how we’ll make sure you have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made about your lives, about your nations and about your people. That’ll be a priority when I am president.

Here’s what else we’re going to do. We’re going to end nearly a century of mismanagement of the Indian trusts. We’re going to work together to settle unresolved cases, figure out how the trusts ought to operate and make sure that they’re being managed responsibly – today, tomorrow and always.

Now, I understand the tragic history between the United States and tribal nations. Our government hasn’t always been honest and truthful in our dealings. And we’ve got to acknowledge that if we’re going to move forward in a fair and honest way.

Indian nations have never asked much of the United States – only for what was promised by the treaty obligations made to their forebears. So let me be absolutely clear – I believe treaty commitments are paramount law, and I will fulfill those commitments as president of the United States.

That means working with tribal governments to ensure that all American Indians receive affordable, accessible health care services. That’s why I’ve cosponsored the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in the U.S. Senate, and that’s why I’ve fought to ensure full funding of the IHS so that it has the resources it needs.

It also means guaranteeing a world-class education for all our children. I’ll work with tribal nations to reform No Child Left Behind and create opportunities for tribal citizens to become teachers so you can be free to educate your children the way you know best. We’ll increase funding for tribal colleges. And I will make Native language preservation and education a priority.

To give families in our tribal communities every chance to succeed in a 21st century economy, I will cut taxes for 95 percent of all workers, invest in job training and small business development, and put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads, schools and bridges.

And I will never forget the service and sacrifice that generations of American Indians have given to this country. We have to keep our sacred trust with Indian veterans by making sure that no veteran falls into homelessness, and that all our veterans get the benefits and support they have earned.

Let me just close by saying this. I was born to a teenage mother. My father left when I was 2 years old, so I never knew him well. I was raised in Hawaii by a single mother and my grandparents, and we didn’t have a lot of money – we even turned to food stamps at one point just to get by.

Where I grew up, there weren’t many black families. So I know what it feels like to be viewed as an outsider. I know what it’s like to not always have been respected or to have been ignored. I know what it’s like to struggle.

Every president is shaped by his own experience. These have been mine. And so I want you to know that I will never forget you. The American Indians I have met across this country will be on my mind each day that I am in the White House. You deserve a president who is committed to being a full partner with you; to respecting you, honoring you and working with you every day. That is the commitment I will make to you as president of the United States.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is the Democratic candidate for president.

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Another Alaska Native Speaks Out About Palin

Story Published: Sep 26, 2008
Story Updated: Sep 25, 2008
http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/opinion/letters/29766074.html
Unlike Mr. [Ben Nighthorse] Campbell, who remarks that he is Northern Cheyenne, a former senator, and a leader in the McCain campaign, I am an Athabascan Indian, I have lived in Alaska all my life, and I actually know firsthand what Gov. Sarah Palin has done.

Contrary to the former senator’s remarks, Alaska subsistence hunting and fishing issues are not complicated. As the former senator concedes, however, they are deeply “political.” My point exactly: consistently, Sarah Palin has politicized subsistence and sought to advantage urban hunters and fishers over the rural people who actually live a subsistence way of life. It is a stunning hostility, given that subsistence fishing, as one example, consumes a mere 2 percent of all consumptive uses of fish in our state.

Nor are Alaska Native people “divided” on this issue. To the contrary, in the late 1990s Alaska Natives held a special statewide convention in Alaska and overwhelmingly reaffirmed their support for rural subsistence.

Palin cannot dodge her responsibility for continuing lawsuits that her predecessor began. She is against federal agency protection for subsistence. She is against subsistence fishing in many navigable waters that are critical to Native people. She is against subsistence hunting in many areas our Native people depend upon for their survival. She is against subsistence rights that prefer rural users as the federal law favored by Alaska Natives demands over urban users.

It is true that Alaska is disabled by its own constitution from extending rural subsistence rights to state lands and waters. But a governor committed to Alaska Native people would press the federal government to do everything in its power to protect those subsistence rights as broadly as possible on federal lands and waters. Instead, Palin has chosen to attack those rights with lawsuits – and “attack” is indeed the fair word here. How else to characterize Palin’s lawsuit brought to defeat subsistence? And how else to explain Alaska Natives’ overwhelming support for the Obama/Biden ticket?

Sarah Palin has built a solid record opposing subsistence and tribal sovereignty in Alaska. That truth may be inconvenient to the former senator, but that does not change it.

Navajo Nation president endorses Barack Obama

Read the article here…

http://www.abc15.com/news/local/story.aspx?content_id=f8266edd-b631-49a3-a6be-7c409e305b5b

Native Obama Supporters Lead Palin Backlash

By Rob Capriccioso

WASHINGTON – Democratic Natives, some of whom have ties to Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign for president, are attacking Gov. Sarah Palin’s record on Indian issues. The charges come at a time of increasing concerns from Obama supporters and advisers that Sen. John McCain’s popular running mate could affect their candidate’s chances with Indian voters.

In an unsigned document widely circulating in Indian country, four main critiques have been levied against the first female Republican vice presidential candidate, including allegations that she has harmed Alaska Native subsistence fishing and hunting; been lukewarm in her support of tribal sovereignty; and that she hasn’t supported Alaska Native languages.

The document, titled “Sarah Palin’s Record on Alaska Native and Tribal Issues,” was partially written by Heather Kendall-Miller, an informal adviser to the Obama campaign in Alaska. She has personally known the senator from Illinois since their days attending Harvard Law School together. Her husband, lawyer Lloyd Miller, co-authored the report, which is based largely on many of the legal cases Kendall-Miller has argued against Palin and the Alaska state government.

“It’s really important to pop [Palin’s] balloon,” Kendall-Miller, a tribal member of the Native Village of Dillingham, told Indian Country Today.

She said she is “very concerned” that Natives who might have voted for Obama could now be swayed by Palin’s entrance into the race.

“That’s exactly why it was so important for us to get the document out. There was such an initial positive response [to Palin], even from Native people in Alaska.”

On the issue of subsistence fishing, the Millers note in the document that Palin has continued pursuing litigation that seeks to overturn “every subsistence fishing determination the federal government has ever made in Alaska.”

“The goal of Palin’s lawsuit is to invalidate all the subsistence fishing regulations the federal government has issued to date to protect Native fishing, and to force the courts instead to take over the roll of setting subsistence regulations,” according to the document. “Palin’s lawsuit seeks to diminish subsistence fishing rights in order to expand sport and commercial fishing.”

On subsistence hunting, the authors state Palin has “sought to invalidate critical determinations the Federal Subsistence Board has made regarding customary and traditional uses of game, specifically to take hunting opportunities away from Native subsistence villagers and thereby enhance sport hunting.”

Regarding tribal sovereignty, the document says Palin has argued that Alaska tribes have little authority to act as sovereign nations, especially in court cases involving the welfare of Native children.

Finally, the document indicates that Palin failed to respect Alaska Native languages and voters by refusing to provide language assistance to Yup’ik speaking Alaska Native voters – until ordered to do so by a federal court earlier this year.

Evon Peter, a former chief of the Neetsaii Gwich’in Tribe from Arctic Village, Alaska, has also made waves as a result of an essay he released on Sept. 8 slamming Palin’s record.

“As Alaska governor, Palin has continued the path of her predecessor [Republican Gov.] Frank Murkowski in challenging attempts by Alaska Native people to regain their human right to their traditional way of life through subsistence,” he wrote.

Peter has quickly become a prominent voice for Alaska Natives who have expressed concerns on Palin’s support for energy development, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He noted in his essay that there is a connection between oil development and global warming, “which is wreaking havoc on Alaska Native villages, forcing some to begin the process of relocation at a cost sure to reach into the hundreds of millions.”

Peter, who said he plans to vote for Obama, told ICT that he’s worried American Indians may not delve deeply enough into Palin’s record when it comes to making an informed decision on who to vote for this fall.

Before Palin became McCain’s running mate, many political observers had expected that Obama would do well with Indian voters, especially considering his strong outreach to tribes during the election thus far.

Some Republican Natives have been quick to point to the fact that the governor’s husband, Todd Palin, as well as their five children, are of Yup’ik descent; and they are hopeful that these family ties could encourage positive policy developments if the McCain-Palin ticket is elected.

Palin herself campaigned for governor partially on the Native heritage of her family, saying in a letter from 2006 that she “so very much appreciate[s] Alaska’s First People, their proud heritage and diverse cultures so abundant in the communities throughout our state.”

The governor also wrote in the letter that she supported tribal economic development and fishing subsistence issues and believes in teaching traditional culture and languages in schools.

But Peter believes that Palin’s record – and not her past pledges – should be the main focus.

“It’s unfortunate that across America, our communities don’t tend to dig deeper into the actual decisions that different leaders have made in their previous offices. … My hope is that Native American people will be inspired to look into all candidates’ track records on the tribal, state and national level.”

Kendall-Miller said she believes Todd Palin “does not consider himself an Alaska Native,” saying he “is much more akin to seeing himself as a sports hunter.”

“I think [Gov. Palin] is using her husband’s Alaska Native heritage the way she is using her developmentally disabled baby to try to draw people in.”

The exact blood quantum of Todd Palin has not been verified by the McCain campaign, but some reports have indicated he could be as much as one-quarter Yup’ik.

Another issue raising ire for some Natives is that fact that Todd Palin worked for the British Petroleum oil company.

Despite the many critiques centered on Todd Palin, his mother, Blanche Palin, is respected by many Alaska Natives, and once served as secretary of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Palin’s gubernatorial and vice presidential spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on issues being raised by Natives about her record and family.

Don Bremner, a Tlingit tribal member, is one of the many Alaska Natives who are concerned that Palin’s familial connections could lead some Indian voters who would have normally voted for Obama to vote for the McCain ticket.

“It’s fine to call yourself Alaska Native and say you support Alaska Native issues,” said Bremner, an Obama supporter. “But there are things that go along with being Alaska Native – meaning you support the culture, you support the language, you support our hunting and fishing ways of life.

“Her administration hasn’t done any of that.”

https://cherokees.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

Native Americans Against Palin: Another Alaskan Native Speaks Out

More and more Native Alaskans are coming forward to tell about their direct experiences with Gov. Palin and her lack of regard for them.  Here is a letter I received today that speaks for itself…

An Alaska Native’s take on his Governor
By Matt Gilbert

Hello. My name is Matt Gilbert. I am originally from Arctic Village, Alaska. I am Alaska Native: Gwich’in Athabascan. I visited Sarah’s campaign office and spoke with her before she became Governor. We talked about the hunting & fishing rights of Alaska Natives. We didn’t get anywhere. She sided with sport & commercial interests, so I never spoke with her again. I knew we’d get no where. She didn’t want to listen. In general, I believe Sarah Palin is another version of Bush, just as inexperienced, but more impulsive. She is very dangerous and scary. People are continuing to support her because she’s beautiful, and this should be a Red Alert for the world. Her purposed policies is to include Georgia into NATO and that would mean all the European countries with all their armed forces will have to go to war with Russia. So she’s willing to ruffle the feathers of a country right next door to her home. Is this who you want as President? You know the scene in the movies when a car or stage coach is about to go over a cliff and you see yourself sliding over? Scary image isn’t it? That’s’ what I’m seeing if Palin gets elected Vice President. Wake up America! Send her back to Alaska. She has plenty of un-finished work here. She hasn’t even gotten funding to move the town of Shishmeraf. It’s falling into the ocean from an eroding coast due to Global Warming, which she wants to fuel more by encouraging more coal and oil development. She fuels the fire, and now they want her to do it on a national level.

Palin has done a lot of irrational things up here as Governor. In the summer of 07’, she Line Item Vetoed a lot of infrastructure projects in rural Alaska. The small town of Eagle spent years trying to get a community center built when they finally got funding, Palin shut it down by her Veto. Even Lawmakers are baffled by her Vetoes. They’ve had Bills well-debated on both sides of the aisle, yet she cuts, cuts, cuts. She supported $15 million to Anchorage’s University’s Sport Complex and cut $1.5 million to an expansion of the runaway teen center. How do you justify that? She supports drilling Off-Shore which would utterly destroy the livelihood of the Inupiaq people on the North Slope. They rely on Whale for subsistence and the development would detrimentally impact those whales. She supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. My people, the Gwich’in have kept this area closed from development for 30 years. No other American Indian tribe has ever accomplished such a feat. If she drills in the Arctic Refuge, it’ll be the end of my culture. We rely on the Porcupine Caribou Herd and if drilling takes place in the Arctic Refuge, our caribou goes and so does our culture. We Gwich’in Athabascans are the last American Indian Tribe in the US that hasn’t been majorly disturbed, heavily impacted, and assimilated. We are the last pure Native American tribe left. We are the last stand for Indian Country. We are the last chapter in American Indian/Anglo American relations. The prior chapters were bad, so make this last chapter a good one and vote for Obama.

Alaska Natives in general are the last group of Native Americans in the United States still depended on a hunting & fishing-based lifestyle where kids and grown-ups go out to fish and hunt to supplement their western diets. It’s crucial we have food off our land because the western foods, processed foods, give us diabetes if we eat them alone. The subsistence foods not only feed our bodies, but our culture, spirit, social lives, and minds. The Western World calls it Subsistence, but we call it our Way of Life. I’m using the word against my well. It gives our lives meaning and keeps us busy. With God’s help, hopefully everyone can understand. Our way of life off the land is everything to us. If we don’t have that we’re nobody, just another group living off the grid, consuming McDonalds, and buying Brand-Named items. We add diversity and richness to the world. Sarah Palin doesn’t care about this. She wouldn’t care if our culture eroded before her eyes. She’s like Nero, sitting in Juneau putting on lip-gloss as Alaskan villages suffer. We’re suffering from fuel costs. We’re suffering from strangulating Fish & wildlife regulations that keep us from surviving off the already scarce wildlife. She has done some things, but not enough. She can ease the Fish & wildlife regulations in order to improve food security in the villages. She can subsidize the villages with the rising fuel costs. The US Government has a Trust Responsibility with its First Americans, the TR requires the Federal/State Governments to ensure we, Alaska Natives, have everything we need to survive. Mrs. Palin has failed miserably at this task. She has a lot more work to do back home.

Her hometown Wasillia has been a hot-bed for racist and Anti-Native attitudes. Anchorage is bad too. Alaska Natives fight discrimination on a daily basis there. Palin isn’t there for them. I read in the Anchorage papers once that a homeless native man froze to death in downtown and some man called it in sounding all casual about it. It’s like the South before the 60s up here. It’s bad. This is the Alaska Sarah Palin maintains and waters for growth. She’s never bothered to change anything because she thinks nothing is broken. As Mayor, she didn’t think anything was wrong with an atmosphere where a native woman had beer bottles thrown at her as she walked down Wasillia. So you have to ask yourself, if she’s willing to ignore the plights and issues of an ethnic group within her town and state, than how much more horrible do you think it’s going to be when she ignores the issues of that same ethnic group or another on a national level?

I believe her popularity comes from her beauty. This society has got to shift itself away from a National Inquirer-based lifestyle to an NPR or New York Times-based lifestyle. Our very world may depend on it. Our hurricanes and disasters are getting worse due to Global Warming, our Stock Market is dangerously shaky, our healthcare is getting so bad it may cause a revolution soon, and the War in Iraq is draining our resources and working families to depression-levels. We need a Change! We need Barack Obama. Not somebody whose reputation is based mainly on image and charm. As an Alaska Native, I see that she doesn’t support our way of life, as a Gwich’in I see that she is willing to end my culture and people for only six more months of oil, and as a Global citizen I see that she is impulsive and inexperienced. Do you want someone like that in charge of a nuclear arsenal? It’s probably already going to take our lifetimes to recover from Bush, if you elect Palin, the consequence are too scary for me to even think about. Please vote for change. Vote for Obama. Vote for Obama.

Alaskan Natives Speak Out Against Palin

By Evon Peter
evonpeter@mac.com
9/8/2008

My name is Evon Peter; I am a former Chief of the Neetsaii Gwich’in tribe from Arctic Village, Alaska and the current Executive Director of Native Movement. My organization provides culturally based leadership development through offices in Alaska and Arizona. My wife, who is Navajo, and I have been based out of Flagstaff, Arizona for the past few years, although I travel home to Alaska in support of our initiatives there as well. It is interesting to me that my wife and I find ourselves as Indigenous people from the two states where McCain and Palin originate in their leadership.

I am writing this letter to raise awareness about the ongoing colonization and violation of human rights being carried out against Alaska Native peoples in the name of unsustainable progress, with a particular emphasis on the role of Sarah Palin and the Republican leadership. My hope is that it helps to elevate truth about the nature of Alaskan politics in relation to Alaska Native peoples and that it lays a framework for our path to justice.

Ever since the Russian claim to Alaska and the subsequent sale to the United States through the Treaty of Cession in 1867, the attitude and treatment towards Alaska Native peoples has been fairly consistent. We were initially referred to as less than human “uncivilized tribes”, so we were excluded from any dialogues and decisions regarding our lands, lives, and status. The dominating attitude within the Unites States at the time was called Manifest Destiny; that God had given Americans this great land to take from the Indians because they were non-Christian and incapable of self-government. Over the years since that time, this framework for relating to Alaska Native peoples has become entrenched in the United States legislative and legal systems in an ongoing direct violation of our human rights.

What does this mean? Allow me to share an analogy. If a group of people were to arrive in your city and tell you their people had made laws, among which were:

1. What were once your home and land now belong to them (although you could live in the garage or backyard)

2. Forced you to send your children to boarding schools to learn their language and be acculturated into their ways with leaders who touted “Kill the American, save the man” (based on the original statement made by US Captain Richard H. Pratt in regards to Native American education “Kill the Indian, save the man.”)

3. Supported missionaries and government agents to forcefully (for example, with poisons placed on the tongues of your children and withheld vaccines) convince you that your Jesus, Buddha, Torah, or Mohammed was actually an agent of evil and that salvation in the afterlife could only be found through believing otherwise

4. Made it illegal for you to continue to do your job to support your family, except under strict oversight and through extensive regulation

5. Made it illegal for you to own any land or run a business as an individual and did not allow you to participate in any form of their government, which controlled your life (voting or otherwise)

How would this make you feel? What if you also knew that if you were to retaliate, that you would be swiftly killed or incarcerated? How long do you think it would take for you to forget or would you be sure to share this history with your children with the hope that justice could one day prevail for your descendents? And most importantly to our conversation, how American does this sound to you?

To put this into perspective, my grandfather who helped to raise me in Arctic Village was born in 1904, just thirty-seven years after the United States laid claim to Alaska. If my grandfather had unjustly stolen your grandfathers home and I was still living in the house and watching you live outdoors, would you feel a change was in order? Congress unilaterally passed most of the major US legislation that affect our people in my grandfathers’ lifetime. There has never been a Treaty between Alaska Native Peoples and the United States over these injustices. Each time that Alaska Native people stand up for our rights, the US responds with token shifts in its laws and policies to appease the building discontent, yet avoiding the underlying injustice that I believe can be resolved if leadership in the United States would be willing to acknowledge the underlying injustice of its control over Alaska Native peoples, our lands, and our ways of life.

United States legal history in relation to Alaska Natives has been based on one major platform – minimize the potential for Alaska Native people to regain control of their lives, lands, and resources and maximize benefit to the Unites States government and its corporations. While the rest of the world, following World War II, was seeking to return African and European Nations to their rightful owners, the United States pushed in the opposite direction by pulling the then Territory of Alaska out of the United Nations dialogues and pushing for Statehood into the Union. Why is it that Alaska Native Nations are still perceived as being incapable of governing our own lands, lives, and resources differently than African, Asian, and European nations?

Let me get specific about what is at stake and how this relates to Palin and the Republican leadership in Alaska and across this country. To this day, Alaska Native peoples are among the only Indigenous peoples in all of North America whose Indigenous Hunting and Fishing Rights have been extinguished by federal legislation and yet we are the most dependent people on this way of life. Most of our villages have no roads that connect them to cities; many live with poverty level incomes, and all rely to varying degrees on traditional hunting, fishing, and harvesting for survival. This has become known as the debate on Alaska Native Subsistence.

As Alaska Governor, Palin has continued the path of her predecessor Frank Murkowski in challenging attempts by Alaska Native people to regain their human right to their traditional way of life through subsistence.

The same piece of unilateral federal legislation, known as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971, that extinguished our hunting and fishing rights, also extinguished all federal Alaska Native land claims and my Tribe’s reservation status. In the continental United States, this sort of legislation is referred to as ‘termination legislation’ because it takes the rights of self-government away from Tribes. It is based in the same age-old idea that we are not capable of governing our people, lands, and resources. To justify these terminations, ANCSA also created Alaska Native led forprofit corporations (which were provided the remaining lands not taken by the government and a one time payment the equivalent of about 1/20th of the annual profits made by corporations in Alaska each year) with a mission of exploiting the land in partnership with the US government and outside corporations. It was a brilliant piece of legislation for the legal termination and cultural assimilation of Alaska Natives under the guise of progress.

Since the passage of ANCSA, political leaders in Alaska, with a few exceptions, have maintained that, as stated by indicted Senator Ted Stevens, “Tribes have never existed in Alaska.” They maintain this position out of fear that the real injustice being carried out upon Alaska Natives may break into mainstream awareness and lead to a re-opening of due treaty dialogues between Alaska Native leaders and the federal government. At the same time the federal government chose to list Alaska Native tribes in the list of federally recognized tribes in 1993. Governor Palin maintains that tribes were federally recognized but that they do not have the same rights as the tribes in the continental United States to sovereignty and self-governance, even to the extent of legally challenging our Tribes rights pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act. What good are governments that can’t make decisions concerning their own land and people?

The colonial mentality in and towards Alaska is to exploit the land and resources for profits and power, at the expense of Alaska Native people. Governor Palin reflects this attitude and perspective in her words and leadership. She comes from an area within Alaska that was settled by relocated agricultural families from the continental United States in the second half of the last century. It is striking that a leader from that particular area feels she has a right, considering all of the injustices to Alaska Native people, to offer Alaskan oil and resources in an attempt to solve the national energy crisis at the Republican Convention. Palin also chose not to mention the connection between oil development and global warming, which is wreaking havoc on Alaska Native villages, forcing some to begin the process of relocation at a cost sure to reach into the hundreds of millions.

Our tribes depend on healthy and abundant land and animals for our survival. For example, my people depend on the Porcupine Caribou herd, which migrates into the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge each spring to birth their young. Any disruption and contamination will directly impact the health and capacity for my people to continue to live in a homeland we have been blessed to live in for over 10,000 years.

This is the sacrifice Palin offered to the nation. The worst part of it is that there are viable alternatives to addressing the energy crisis in the United States, yet Palin chooses options that very well may result in the extinguishment of some of the last remaining intact ecosystems and original cultures in all of North America. Palin is also promoting off shore oil drilling and increased mining in sensitive areas of Alaska, all of which would have a lifespan of far fewer years than my grandfather walked on this earth and which would not even make a smidgen of an impact on national consumption rates or longer term sustainability. McCain was once a champion of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and it is sad to see, that with Palin on board, he is no longer vocal and perhaps even giving up on what he believes in to satisfy Palin’s position.

While I have much more to say, this is my current offering to elevate the conversation about what is at stake in Alaska and for Alaska Native peoples. Please share this offering with others and help us to make this an election that brings out honest dialogue. We have an opportunity to bring lasting change, but only if we can be open to hearing the truth about our situations and facing the challenges that arise.

Many thanks to all those who are taking stands for a just and sustainable future for all of our future generations,

*This essay is a personal reflection and should not be attributed to my tribe or organization

Former Cherokee Chief: Energized and Hopeful for Obama

Native Currents

by: Wilma Mankiller

© Indian Country Today August 22, 2008. All Rights Reserved

 

Energized and hopeful for Sen. Barack Obama

As a Native woman, it is tough not to feel distrustful of and cynical toward most politicians.  But on the crest of this election season, unlike any prior, I feel buoyed. I feel energized, engaged and excited. I feel something new: hope.

Yes, it’s a buzzword nowadays. ”Hope” has become synonymous with a candidate and emblematic of movement. The cynic in me wishes to dismiss it as superficially attractive yet ultimately insubstantial, but decades of experience in politics and public service won’t allow me to do that. I haven’t felt this hopeful in years.

It started in the primary. As Native people, we didn’t have just a single good candidate; we had several great ones from which to choose. It was a profound struggle choosing a candidate to endorse, but one I welcomed. What a wonderful surprise to have too many candidates listening to us and responding to our issues.

Now, as the campaign has narrowed to a general election, my hope for the future of this country and its policies toward tribal governments and individuals only grows. I know we have an advocate in Sen. Barack Obama, who unveiled his First Americans platform while the campaign was still in its infancy and has since been meeting with tribal leaders around the country. He is humble enough to respectfully listen, and empathetic enough to fully understand the challenges facing our communities today. I believe Sen. Obama when he says he feels ”a particular sense of outrage when I see the status of so many Native Americans, and there is a sense of kinship in terms of the struggles that have to be fought.” The other candidates simply cannot speak from the same place.

But he does more than talk the talk. Since entering the U.S. Senate, Obama supported the Indian Health Care Reauthorization Act and pushed for a billion-dollar increase in IHS funding. As a presidential candidate, he took that commitment to Indian health care further and called for full funding of IHS. In addition, one of Obama’s first initiatives as a candidate was to plan for a National Indian Policy Adviser as a senior staff member in the White House.

I’m inspired that this country chose him as a presidential candidate and I’m eager to be a part of history when we elect him in November. And make no mistake; we will be the ones electing him in November. Native people have an unprecedented degree of electoral power this season. We are a voting bloc that must be courted. Native populations are the most geographically dense in states likely to be up for grabs this election, meaning 1 – 2 percent of the vote in swing states could be the difference between an Obama victory on the one hand and four more years of Indian-hostile policies on the other. We can make that difference, but only if we vote.

Sen. Obama is a lifelong public servant who has shown sage judgment and sound politics. I trust him to nominate judges to the Supreme Court who will respect the inherent rights of tribal governments and the basic human rights of all people. I am impressed by the fact that he seeks and heeds wise counsel
and solid policy advice on the issues I care most about – tribal sovereignty, foreign policy and health care.

Wilma Mankiller is the former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.