2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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A Season of Neglect for Native People

 

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In Iowa and New Hampshire this week, voters began the momentous process of picking nominees for president.

As the list of leading contenders narrows, now is a good time to examine where the leading presidential candidates stand on issues of interest to Native people.

To that end, yours truly scoured the Internet to find any information about where those top candidates stand on Native issues. I certainly don't consider this a comprehensive examination of this topic, and I welcome any information about what candidates have said about Indians.

First, who do I consider the leading candidates? Based on results from the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary: Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards for the Democrats; Sen. John McCain, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republicans.

Here's my executive summary:

This campaign season, Clinton is the only leading candidate of either party who appears to have addressed Native issues in any significant manner. Speaking via satellite to those gathered Nov. 17 for the National Congress of American Indians' annual convention in Denver, Clinton expressed support for a host of Native issues.

Beyond that, Obama is the only other candidate who appears to be expressing support for Native issues (albeit through his Web site). None of the Republican candidates, save for McCain during his 2000 race for the Republican nomination, have even come close to addressing Native issues.

Here's a rundown of what I found:

• Clinton: Speaking to NCAI conference attendees in November, she lamented the current administration's lack of respect for Native people and promised a sea change in Native people's favor should she be elected. "I believe it's time for a new beginning. It's time for our governments to work together, as partners again, like we used to. As president, I will restore that partnership and renew our shared mission to lift up our families and build the future our children, grandchildren and future generations deserve." She also promised that, if elected, she would restore a tribal government liaison position within the White House and governmental affairs office, a position created by her husband, Bill Clinton, and ended by his predecessor, George W. Bush. On her Web site, Hillary Clinton expresses support for initiatives to bring more women and minorities into the math, science and engineering professions, initiatives that presumably would benefit Natives. She also says she would increase amounts for Pell grants - grants that often benefit Native college students.

• Obama: On his Web site, the senator offers a section called "First Americans for Obama." While scant on specific proposals, that section offers this: "Perhaps more so than any populations, American Indians are painfully aware of the need for change. Tribes have experienced firsthand the lack of progress under prior administrations."

• Edwards: The former senator has offered little to no significant expressions of support for Native people.

• McCain: More so than almost any other candidate (save perhaps for Clinton), McCain has proven himself interested in and supportive of a variety of Native issues as a U.S. senator. The former chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, McCain was the only candidate to attend the NCAI's national convention in Palm Springs, Calif., in October 1999. Regarded highly by tribes in his own state while a senator, McCain helped steer a Senate resolution that never got passed apologizing to Native people for their historical mistreatment by the U.S. government. However, McCain also co-sponsored the controversial 1996 Navajo-Hopi Relocation Act that led to the forced removal of some 321 Navajo homes from the Black Mesa in Arizona.

• Huckabee: He has not mentioned any significant support for Native people.

• Romney: He has not mentioned any significant support for Native people.

Other candidates, including Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, certainly have expressed support for Native causes. In fact, as governor of a state populated heavily by Native people, Richardson is considered by many to be Indian's greatest ally among the presidential candidates.

Of course, no presidential candidate has ever won the nomination based on his or her support for Native issues. But it is important, I believe, for candidates to at least educate himself or herself on issues important to Native voters, people who enjoy a unique relationship with the U.S. government as sovereign nations.

This campaign season, the candidate who certainly has expressed the most support for Native people is Clinton, though many would say McCain commands a greater grasp of Native issues than even Clinton.

Regardless, the lack of any significant interest in courting Native voters by the candidates this campaign season is disappointing.

We can only hope that, as those candidates move to states with larger Native populations, they will become inspired to seek the votes of this country's first inhabitants.

Kevin Abourezk, Oglala Lakota, is a reporter and editor at the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star. He is a reznet

 


 

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