Barack Obama and American Indians: “You will be on my mind every day I am in the White House”

A collection of three separate articles, and one video, in line with the intent of the previous post:

“You will be on my mind every day I am in the White House”

My Indian policy starts with honoring the unique government to government relationship between tribes and the federal government and ensuring that our treaty obligations are met and ensuring that Native Americans have a voice in the White House.

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

See also the “First Americans” section of the Obama campaign website.

* Actually has an “Indian policy”
* An American Indian adviser on tribal policy
* End a century of mismanagement of Indian Trusts
* Treaty commitments are paramount law
* World class health care and education on Reserves

‘Obamamania’ hits the Crow Nation
Indian Country Today
May 23, 2008
by Adrian Jawort

Sen. Barack Obama makes first visit to Indian country

CROW AGENCY, Mont. – “I like my new name: Barack Black Eagle. That is a good name,” Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama told the crowd of some 4,000 people gathered at Crow Agency May 19. He referenced having been adopted into the tribe moments earlier by his new “parents,” Hartford and Mary Black Eagle.

Obama’s official new American Indian name, given to him by the Crow Nation, was translated as “One who helps people throughout the land.”

“It is not just done for show,” Robert Old Horn explained after he announced the tribe’s newest honorary member. “But it is done with sincereness – adopting one into a family, with brothers and sisters.”

Crow Tribal Chairman Carl Venne introduced Obama, thanking the Illinois senator for co-sponsoring the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and presenting Obama with gifts to share with his family.

“We ask that you, senator, commit to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People,” Venne said. The U.S. is one of four countries that voted against that declaration.

In turn, Obama thanked and listed every tribe in Montana, and thanked the rest of Indian country for its support. He also praised the work of his director of Native American Outreach in Montana, Samuel Kohn, Crow.

Having the senator come to the reservation was the manifestation of a lot of hard work on behalf of Kohn and other tribal Obama supporters.

“We’ve been doing all kinds of things: community organizing, meeting up with each of the tribal leaders, traveled all over the state,” Kohn said. “We’ve really ran the gauntlet.”

Kohn said that because Obama makes every person feel involved, it has made his work more rewarding with a tremendous increase of voters on reservations.

He was touched when his work to get people to vote was heeded by one elderly man on the northern Montana Rocky Boy’s Reservation.

“And at a meeting, a man 74 years old came up,” Kohn said. “He said nobody cared enough to ask him to vote, or cared enough to even show him what he should do to register to vote. But when he said he was going to vote for the first time in his life, he said, ‘I’m going to vote for Barack Obama.’

“For the first time, I feel that a candidate really cares about improving the life of American Indians. There’s no other candidate that has sat down face-to-face with American Indians and genuinely cared about them.”

One Northern Cheyenne voter present at the Obama rally, Donna Gonzalez, said she was disillusioned with the current administration and was impressed that Obama would put Indians in his cabinet. “I’m a Republican, but I’m voting for a Democrat this year,” she said.

Obama’s words at the rally were a strong indication that Kohn was right in his feelings about the candidate and his commitment to American Indians.

“Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as the Native Americans, the first Americans,” Obama said. “Too often Washington has paid lip service to working with tribes, while taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach with tribal communities across the nation. That will change when I’m president of the United States.”

Obama said that he’d work with tribes to settle mismanagement of Indian trusts, and would even host an annual summit at the White House with tribal leaders to come up with an agenda for tribal communities while making sure treaty obligations are met while honoring the tribal and federal government relationship.

“Because that’s how we’ll make sure that you have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made about your lives, about your nations, about your people,” he said about the proposed annual tribal White House summit.

Obama acknowledged that the U.S. government has had a tragic history with tribal nations, and that it hasn’t always been honest with them.

“And that’s history we have to acknowledge if we are 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 by their forebears.

“So let me be clear: I believe that treaty commitments are paramount law, I’ll fulfill those commitments as president of the United States.”

He said in addition to co-sponsoring the IHCIA, he’s fighting to ensure full funding of IHS, as well as increase tribal college and education funding for all American Indian children.

Obama told of how when he grew up in Hawaii and because he was black, he felt he was often deemed an “outsider,” the same as many American Indians perhaps have felt in their own country.

“And because I have that experience, I want you to know that you will never be forgotten. You will be on my mind every day that I’m in the White House.

“We will never be able to undo the wrongs that were committed against Native Americans. But what we can do is make sure that we have a president who’s committed to doing what’s right with Native Americans – being a full partner.

“Respecting you, honoring you, working with you. That’s the commitment I’m making to you; and since now I’m a member of the [Crow and American Indian] family, you know that I won’t break my commitment to my own brothers, and my own sisters.”

June 4, 2008
By Kevin Bogardus

Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. Barack Obama’s support for the Cherokee Nation in its controversial battle with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is helping him win support from Native American leaders.

That support has translated into votes in Democratic primaries, and could also help the Illinoisan in a general-election fight with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Obama has weighed in against legislation supported by other CBC members that would cut off federal funds to the Cherokee Nation. The CBC is upset with the Cherokee for excluding Freedmen – descendants of slaves once owned by tribal members – from tribal membership.

Obama has said that he disagrees with the decision, but opposes cutting off funds to the Cherokee, saying tribes have a right to be self-governing.

To most black lawmakers, the move by the Cherokee Nation smacked of racism and discrimination. But many Native Americans see tribal membership as an issue of sovereignty and resent any federal intrusion.

Chairman Joe Brings Plenty of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe in South Dakota said if Obama had sided with the CBC on the issue, it would have weighed on Native American voters’ minds.

“It would have been costly,” Brings Plenty said. “If Congress is allowed to step and just rearrange the constitution, what is going to happen to our constitution? The seriousness of the issue is that comes down directly to interfering with the nations.”

Obama easily won the two South Dakota counties where Brings Plenty’s reservation is located on Tuesday, although it wasn’t enough for him to win the entire state. He also benefited from strong wins in Indian counties in Montana, where he did defeat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

According to Obama’s advisers and supporters, a number of states might go Democratic in this year’s general election because of Native American votes. They cite Montana, a state where more than 6 percent of the population is Native American. It has voted Republican in the last several presidential campaigns, but Obama trails McCain by an average of only seven points, according to polls monitored by RealClearPolitics.

Another example cited by Obama’s supporters is North Carolina. While its population is only a little more than 1 percent American Indian, it is seen as a swing state where Obama might be able to edge out a narrow victory.

If Obama had sided with the CBC, Brings Plenty, who has no position on the substance of the Freedmen dispute, said he would not have retracted his endorsement but would have requested a meeting with the senator to offer his perspective on the issue.

Brings Plenty isn’t alone in praising Obama’s position on the Cherokee issue. Indian Country Today, a Native American news service, praised him for meeting “Indian issues head-on, even where they could put him at odds with other voters.”

“It was smart of Obama to put out a position. I’m glad he’s on the record. This is something tribes definitely want to hear,” said Lillian Sparks, a member of the Rosebud Sioux and executive director of the National Indian Education Association.

The CBC reaction has been less positive.

In an op-ed in The Hill, Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), who endorsed Clinton for president, said the Democratic front-runner’s statement on the Freedmen shows he is without “a clear understanding of the issue.”

“What Sen. Obama fails to understand is that the Freedmen issue is about treaty rights, not tribal sovereignty,” wrote Watson.

Obama has taken other positions to win over Native American voters. He backs more education and healthcare funding for tribes, and has promised as president to hold an annual meeting with tribal leaders and to hire a senior White House aide to handle Native American issues.

“At the heart of his campaign is the need to be inclusive, particularly for communities that have felt they have been left out. For Indian Country, that resonates,” said Keith Harper, a Cherokee member and partner at Kilpatrick Stockton who heads up the Obama campaign’s 50-member Native American policy advisory committee.

Obama has met with tribal leaders in five states so far, including Tuesday’s Democratic primary states, according to his campaign. He also held a conference call with tribal leaders from across the nation in July 2007.

Brings Plenty soon started hearing from Obama campaign aides in October 2007 about an endorsement, although his nearly 16,000-member tribe is based in South Dakota and was not voting until June.

“I was surprised because he had knowledge of native issues even then,” said Brings Plenty about Obama when listening in to the conference call. “When I found out [former Sen. Tom] Daschle [D-S.D.] was one of his advisers, I knew that’s why he knows.”

Brings Plenty endorsed Obama personally in November 2007 and later had a tribal resolution passed officially supporting the senator in February this year.

Kalyn Free, a member of the Democratic National Committee and Oklahoma superdelegate, was disappointed when Obama did not attend an August 2007 Native American forum also skipped by several other candidates. But she’s since endorsed Obama, whom she said plans to attend a national tribal leader forum she’s organizing this summer.

Free aims to hold the forum in New Mexico, “the most purple of battleground states,” Free said. “Indians are and can be the pivotal and the deciding factor on who wins the White House.”

Obama Thanks Native Voters
Rob Capriccioso
June 6, 2008
Indian Country Today

WASHINGTON – Sen. Barack Obama pulled out big wins in Indian country in Montana and South Dakota, which helped him to become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president June 3.

”The Indian vote definitely contributed to our victory,” said Matt Chandler, a spokesman for the Obama campaign’s Montana efforts. ”We performed a lot of Native American outreach here throughout the campaign, and we think it paid off.”

Chandler said the Illinois senator will continue to focus strongly on getting out the Indian vote in the general election. ”Sen. Obama has for a long time been an advocate for Native Americans. He will absolutely continue paying attention.”

Many political observers correctly predicted that Obama would perform especially well among the Indian population in Montana. Of no small significance was the visit he made to the state’s Crow country May 19, during which he was adopted into a tribal family. He also visited the Fort Peck reservation, and has made consistent outreach to tribal leaders and Indian groups throughout the country.

Numbers gathered by the campaign indicate Obama received more than 75 percent of the vote in Big Horn County, in which many Crow and some Northern Cheyenne reside. Chandler added that Obama beat New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in all counties in Montana containing the state’s reservations. Overall, the senator from Illinois garnered 56 percent of Montana’s vote, compared to 41 percent for Clinton.

”We were lucky to have the support of many tribal leaders with the Crow and Fort Peck reservations,” Chandler said. According to the Montana secretary of state, the state’s seven Indian reservations are home to only about 8 percent of the population, but typically produce 20 percent of the vote in Democratic primaries.

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, a state legislator and a councilman for the Chippewa-Cree Tribe, said that the votes from Montana’s Indian country ”would have made the difference” for Obama had the race ended up being closer between him and Clinton.

”Native Americans were front and center for Barack,” said Windy Boy, who noted that Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican, lost his seat by less than 4,000 votes after American Indian leaders criticized him for taking money from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff in 2006.

While Obama lost South Dakota 55 percent to 45 percent to Clinton, he was still much more popular than her among Natives, winning all eight counties in the state with significant American Indian populations. In Shannon County, home to the Pine Ridge reservation, he won 52 percent of the vote; in Todd County, home to the Rosebud Sioux reservation, he won 63 percent.

Turnout in the counties that contain Pine Ridge and Rosebud was substantially lower than the overall Democratic turnout in the state, despite several visits by the Clinton campaign in May. In Shannon County, about 27 percent of registered Democrats made it out to the polls, while in Todd County, 32 percent of registered Democrats turned out. Overall turnout among Democrats in South Dakota was about 50 percent.

Clinton herself had campaigned at Pine Ridge in the days leading up to the primary, and former President Clinton made several unprecedented stops on South Dakota reservations this campaign season. Still, most tribal leaders in the state endorsed Obama.

Both Shannon and Todd counties have been instrumental to Democrats in recent statewide general election campaigns. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson had been losing his 2002 re-election bid until late returns from Shannon County placed him ahead of his Republican challenger by a scant 524 votes. And Democratic Sen. John Kerry won the county with 85 percent of the vote in 2004, which was his best county performance in the nation.

American Indians are the largest minority group in the state, comprising approximately 8.5 percent of the population.

Many political observers had long believed the Clintons to be invincible in South Dakota Indian country. But Kalyn Free, founder of the political organization Indigenous Democratic Network, or INDN’s List, thinks that title now belongs to Obama.

”There’s a sea change going on in America, and I believe that Sen. Obama is the catalyst. I think that he’s touching the hearts and souls of Indian people in a new and different way.”

Free is one of four Native superdelegates who have pledged their support for Obama. She is in the process of planning a tribal forum to take place in New Mexico this summer, which Obama has pledged to attend.

Clinton was expected to concede the primary to Obama June 7.

Former Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell hailed the role of the Indian vote in the presidential campaign thus far, and he believes it will continue to be noteworthy when Obama likely faces his Republican challenger, presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain, in November.

”There’s no question about it [that the Native American vote] made the difference,” Campbell said. ”All three candidates – Obama, Clinton and McCain – all have pretty strong records on helping Indian people. McCain much more so than the other two, but he’s been there a lot longer, and was chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

”Indians know how important they are. They’re recognizing that in about five or six states, they can be the margin of difference. When you follow the domino effect, they are realizing that they can really change history. And they have.”

4 thoughts on “Barack Obama and American Indians: “You will be on my mind every day I am in the White House”

  1. Laura

    Like the song says “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” He has been in office for 8 months. I haven’t heard a word about anything that he has done for the Indian people. He isn’t thinking about American Indians. If he was he won’t be worsening our health care. How could any American Indian have supported him than or now. My Cherokee husband doesn’t. Never did!!

  2. Pingback: Lower than Lewinsky | Jeannie-ology

  3. David K

    President BARACK OBAMA was invited to address a major gathering of the American Indian Nation in upstate New York .

    He spoke for almost an hour about his plans for increasing every Native American’s present standard of living. He referred to his time as a U.S.
    Senator and how he had voted for every Native American issue that came to the floor of the Senate.

    Although President Obama was vague about the details of his plans, he seemed most enthusiastic and spoke eloquently about his ideas for helping his “red sisters and brothers.”

    At the conclusion of his speech, the Tribes presented Obama with a plaque inscribed with his new Indian name, “Walking Eagle.” The proud President then departed in his motorcade to a fundraiser, waving to the crowds.

    A news reporter later asked the group of chiefs how they came to select the new name they had given to the President.

    They explained that “Walking Eagle” is the name given to a bird so full of shit it can no longer fly

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