Dems reach out to Native Americans


Women and African-Americans aren’t the only demographics receiving extra attention from Democrats this year. The party has also been reaching out to Native Americans.


“In the past, Native American voters have been ignored, or thought of in the last minute,” says Laura Harris of the Comanche Tribe. “What (Democratic National Committee Chairman) Howard Dean has done is incorporate us into the process, not just for our vote, but for our participation and economic support, too. It’s an exciting time to be a Native American and take our place in the political process of the U.S.”


Harris, who serves as the executive director of the nonprofit Americans for Indian Opportunity, is one of an “unprecedented” six Native Americans appointed to the Democratic National Convention’s standing committees. She’s just one example of how the Democratic Party is recognizing Native American issues and courting Indian voters.


When Dean took his seat as chairman of the Democratic Party in February 2005, he initiated the party’s “50 State Plan,” in order to “not write off voters who we didn’t expect to win, and not take for granted voters we thought we already had,” according to Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera.


The national party is working with state parties to hire full-time staff to reach out at a state level, rather than engaging only voters in key demographics or during election years. Every state, says LaVera, now has at least three full-time party employees. And four states – Arizona, Oklahoma, Alaska and New Mexico -- have full-time Native American party organizers.


The 50 State Plan also encourages American Indians to seek office. “The Democratic Party has always said everyone deserves a place at the table,” says La Vera. “But Chairman Dean said that wasn’t enough. He said Native Americans needed a place on the ballots.”


The plan is working, he adds, noting that in 2006, a record 64 Native Americans were elected to state legislatures in 14 different states.


Democrats are also helping Native Americans financially. Last August, the party chose the Native American Bank in Denver, which is owned by 26 federally recognized Indian tribes, as the depository of $2 million in federal grant funds.


“The money provides the Native American Bank with a little bit of publicity and support for the great work they’ve been doing,” says Natalie Wyeth, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Convention Committee. “They have a long track record of working with tribal and other underprivileged communities, and helping them in start-up efforts.”


The party’s convention committee has recently begun depositing a portion of its federal grant funds in “minority and woman-owned banks” in the convention’s host city, instead of keeping it in New York or Washington, D.C., says Wyeth. In Boston in 2004, the party used OneUnited, the largest African-American bank in the U.S., and Asian American Bank, which provides financial support to small business owners and the Asian American community.


Democrats hope that by the time the funds are withdrawn -- a few months before the convention begins in late August -- their economic and political support will have encouraged Native American voters to continue supporting Democratic candidates.


Laura Harris speaks from experience when she says that the Native Americans’ role in the Democratic Party has come a long way.


She has been politically involved for most of her life, she says, and served as a Native American policy advisor in the presidential campaigns of Howard Dean and John Kerry in 2004. But her connection to the party goes back even further: Her father, Fred Harris (who is not Native American), served as chair of the Democratic National Committee in 1969.


“I don’t think we’ve ever had a chairman--including my own father--who’s really tried to institutionalize the participation of Native Americans in the Democratic Party before. Usually we’re seen as a fringe group, or we’re looked at as an afterthought, but Native Americans make up the swing vote in many states.”


In fact, she says, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson and Rep. Stephanie Herseth all attribute their seats to the Native American vote.


While exceptions invariably pop up in any so-called voting bloc, Native Americans have an overwhelmingly “blue” voting history -- as much as 90 percent Democratic. A Carsey Institute analysis of the Bush-Kerry race of 2004, for example, found that while rural communities favored Bush, Indian reservations were an exception.


In a 2002 congressional race in Arizona, Republican Rick Renzi won overall, but his Democratic opponent took 72 percent of the vote in Apache County, which is 74 percent American Indian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


Harris believes the party’s efforts will, indeed, get out the Native American vote this year. “We saw larger turnouts here in New Mexico at our caucus. It’s amazing to see the increased Democratic turnout all across the country, and Native Americans are part of that.”


If history is any indicator, the increase in Native voters will bode well for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.


In a blog entitled “Why Natives Should Vote for Barack Obama,” Rosebud Lakota Alfred Walking Bull writes, “Natives are born into this America to believe not just the worst in people, but to expect the bare minimum since our broken treaties with the federal government. We are bred to believe the worst in people: Black, white, Asian, Hispanic and even fellow Natives. We all are led to believe that we will betray each other in the end. Then I heard the call to believe in change from Obama and I dared to hope in a brighter future when we, as Native Peoples, can be counted and get legislation passed in Congress.”


At a rally in Albuquerque, Obama promised, if elected, to organize annual summits with tribal leaders. Obama has been endorsed by the independent newspaper Native American Times, leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation in the American Southwest, and Frank LaMere, an Oklahoma superdelegate and chair of the Democratic Party’s Native American Coordinating Council.


The other Native American superdelegate, Kalyn Free of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, is still undecided. Free and LaMere are two of 794 Democratic superdelegates.


Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by the 13 tribal leaders on her Nevada Native American Leadership Council, as well as about 40 tribal leaders and individuals, including former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah. Clinton has developed a “Native American Agenda” that addresses over a dozen tribal issues, including solar and wind energy development and increased funding for primary and higher education.


“Keep in mind these are just platforms,” says Ray Ramirez of the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo. “It doesn’t mean (candidates) are going to do anything, and around election time it seems like they will say anything. It always sounds good, and now we’ll just hold our breath and see if they come through with it. Most of the time they don’t, whether they’re Democrat or Republican.”


The Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, whose home state of Arizona includes over 15 Indian reservations, has a history of supporting tribal legislation, including a bill supporting the investigation of products misrepresented as American Indian-produced. He served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs from 2005 to 2007.


All three presidential candidates are co-sponsors of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which passed the Senate in late February, and all have said that improving the relationship between tribes and the U.S. government begins with an acknowledgment, in Obama’s words, of “the tragic history of a lot of the relationships between the United States of America and tribal nations.”


The author is an intern for High Country News.
Mar 17, 2008 11:41 AM

It's great to see Native Americans be taken more seriously by the Democratic Party, for a long time I think we were taken for granted as most Native people vote Democratic. I know Frank LaMere from college in Billings MT, and It's good to see him involved at such a level. He's a very intelligent ,articulate person who will be a asset, to the Party and Native people in general. In Big Horn county ,Montana where I'm from many Natives have run and been elected to public office,this has caused somewhat of a backlash from Non-native candidates who sometimes have sought support from national Pro-white Groups who's agenda is questionable. Native voters and candidates have proven they are to be taken seriously!

Mar 18, 2008 11:13 AM

After reading this article, I am overjoyed that the Democratic Party is reaching out to support the Native Americans of this country.  Here on the East coast I have quietly championed for the Native American in the hope that this would happen.  After 2 1/2 years of championing them silently, I am overwhelmed with joy that the Presidential candidates are all supporting tribal legislation, have all supported and co-sponsored the Indian Health Act which was long overdue, and finally passed this past February, and that the Native Americans are being encouraged to join and participate in the voting process as well as for running for office. They have been taken for granted, ignored, or passed over for far too long, and as Obama said, "It is time for change.."  I say, "It is time for the Native American to heard...listened to...and taken seriously.

Mar 26, 2008 11:14 AM

Since the last election here in Oklahoma, where the Indian Vote made a difference, people have become more interested in the political outcomes.  They now appear to feel that their vote can make a difference.  I also see that in young people who now have hope for the future.  The Indian Community in Oklahoma could control all outcomes if they all voted. 

 I would like to see the two candidates make more of an effort to be seen in the Indian Communities and share their views and ideas for the future as it pertains to the Indian people. 

More Indians need to become involved at the local and state level.  The "political machine" can be a thing of the past.  The popular vote needs to be more demanding of their candidates and what they actually stand for.  We could have rallys where excitement is raised and everyone becomes committed to change.



What is the National Native Agenda
Terrance H  Booth Sr
Terrance H Booth Sr
Aug 11, 2008 03:56 PM
Each new presidential administration once in place the tribal leadership marches upon Washington, DC hoping that their rights, soverienty issues, tribal programs and favorable policies remain in place. Further, there is lot of re-educating the Office of the President and his Cabinet members and Congress on who we are as Alaska Native and Native American and either we are in a battle stance or we get along with the new cabinet members. Besides the regular Native Advocacy Organizations there should be a National Alaska Native and Native American Forum developed to once and for all resolve the social and economic issues of our tribal people. Once and for all put in legislative forum and into Native Policy Forum what has taken place in the past and what is happening with Indian Affairs today 2008. It seems depending who gets elected as President once in office the special interest groups take over. Then our Native issues get put on hold or under advisement. Rather then the uphill battles why not once and for all develop problem soliving policies that are developed by the National Native Forum and making it workable for future generations of Natives rather then battle for meaningful legislation with each new presidential administration. America has celebrated its 232nd Birthday. And in these 232 years what significant accomplishments have been made with Alaska Native and Native American populations? the Natives will say America has a very poor track record in working with Native issues and concerns. Isn't it time for the new president to step forward to once and for all resolve the every present social and economic concerns or America's Indigenous population? One would think in all the 232 years of this country that some efforts would have taken place; but, the realities are we are still unknown.
Alaska Native and Native American Votes Count
Terrance H. Booth, Sr.
Terrance H. Booth, Sr.
Nov 03, 2008 12:39 AM
November 4, 2008 marks the day when all of America will send into office a new president. From watching the news, television and campaign debates much is at stake for the lives of all Americans.

Regardless of who gets elected into office Alaska Natives and Native Americans have to watch and see who the new president appoints into his cabinet level. It is at that level Natives are either in a battle stance or they some how get along with the new political appointees. Our voting does count and across America the presidential races are so close our voting will count this election year. Last election in Arizona the Native American vote counted by them putting into office a Democratic Governor amid the Republican Stronghold State. So elections that are close our voting numbers do count.

Across 11 states this year there are 29 Native American Candidates running for state offices. So they need your votes to get into office. In the last eight years it is difficult to research what was accomplished for Alaska Native and Native Americans especially under a warring nation, which has its budget at 43% for the war. And only 12% to reduce poverty in America.

Under this current president the appointees to the US Supreme Court one appointee was anti-Native working against Alaska Native Rights. That is the power of the president he sets the agenda to what is to happen in America and what is the national agenda for all of Indian Country? Let the candidates know at the voting polls on November 4, 2008 that we demand attention to our social and economic conditions.
Indian Boarding school abuse
Beth Ansari
Beth Ansari
Sep 01, 2009 05:38 PM
Article III of the The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 states that "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians, their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent, and in their property, rights and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress."

We are all well aware of The Native American communities haveing been lied to time and time again, treaties forever broken, their lands, their homes, their languages, religious beliefs, Traditional ways of living and thinking, and there culture have all been stripped away from them as a means of solving the "Indian Problem, through the process of assimilating them into the White European society. " Kill the Indian, Save the man," quoted by Capt Richard Pratt would become one of the most famous saying of it's time, As congress would later come to realize, it was easier and much more cost effective to assimilate the Indians by removing them from their beloved homelands and by educating them, then it was to exterminate them all.

As of June 11,2008 the Canadian government issued a public apology to the First Nations people for all the abuses committed against them while at the residential schools, and now maybe even for the first time, The First Nations People are beginning to come out and speak about the horrors that they went through. The United States has yet to issue an apology to all the Native people in this country.

Alcoholism, Fetal Alcohol syndrome, ADHD and ADD, Infant mortality rates, Drug abuse, Domestic Violence, Child abuse, Child neglect, Sexual Assault among both female and males, issues with trust, Anxiety, low self esteem, High School dropouts, pregnant teens, and suicides are much higher among the Native American communities, then that of other ethnic communities across the United States. What has been left in its wake has been nothing more then a very confused,dysfunctional, and economically depressed society. Resulting in Cultural Genocide.

NOW is the time to Rise up and to let your Stories be told and your Voices heard! As research has proven time and time again that the abuse and trauma of those who attended one of the many Governments Indian boarding schools, and missionary schools, have continued to pass this pain and suffering onto the next generation and thus, becoming a vicious circle, with each generation carrying it on to the next. Until these issues of abuse and trauma have been acknowledged and talked about, this cycle will continue to repeat itself without any ending or healing in sight. I am an Author in search of victims of abuse at the hands of the Government's Indian Boarding Schools and Missionary schools, willing to come forward and let there voices be heard. Contact Beth Ansari at Or phone me at (215)368-1248, you may also write me at 1661 Bishopwood Blvd E. Harleysville PA 19438. All names will be held in strict confidence and left Anonymous if so wished. NOW is the time to Rise up and to let your Stories be told and your Voices heard! Each generation continues to carry the pain and suffering, of their parents and of their ancestors, onto the next generations and this has become a vicious circle without any end or healing in sight! There can really be no healing until people are willing to talk about it.

Thank You
Beth Ansari