Expanding The Body Politic
‘EXPANDING THE BODY POLITIC’
For Immediate Release
April 26, 2006
Tribes plan for increased representation – April 23, 2006
By Kalyn Free
The sentiment that “Indians matter” is familiar to many Tulsans, yet for millions of Americans it is not. Most Americans encounter Indian culture and Indian communities on a limited basis -- maybe once a year during Thanksgiving holiday or when glancing at the latest headlines about tribal gaming. But the same issues that affect non-Indians are what American Indian people both on and off reservations struggle with on a daily basis – quality education for youth, affordable housing and health care for families, honoring war veterans, and sustaining economic growth.
However, American Indians confront a myriad of challenges today that are rooted in history and specific only to tribal communities: preserving tribal self-determination and sovereignty as recognized in the U.S. Constitution, overseeing the federal government-to-government trust relationship between tribes and the federal government, and fulfilling the needs of tribal communities and citizens with grossly underfunded federal dollars. These are unique issues specific to tribal citizens.
But many times these challenges are not heard by mainstream America and largely ignored by the majority of media outlets. I founded the Indigenous Democratic Network, INDN’s List, on the principle that Indians will only be heard when they have a voice: the first Americans should not be the last Americans to be represented.
Barriers strewn along the path to democratic representation have historically denied American Indians our voting rights and limited our political opportunity. Governments at every level have worked to dilute the efficacy of Indian voting in schemes that made it impossible to elect Native Americans even where they should have constituted a significant voting bloc. It took fifty-four years after the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the vote to all citizens regardless of race or color, for Indians to gain citizenship and the right to vote.
As with the experience of African Americans, however, the “right to vote” proved to be in name only until the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act. Indian people have fought and died for this nation, as Indian people have fought in every U.S. war since the Revolution and today still serve the U.S. armed forces at a higher per capita percentage than any other racial group. Patriotism is nothing new, but we must take our seat at the political table and have a voice in the discourse that shapes our country going forward. Too much is at stake for our communities not to be represented. Our tribal voters have delivered politicians to office in close elections time and time again. Indian voters secured victories in races all across America – Arizona, Minnesota, South Dakota, Washington and right here in Oklahoma.
Indians have made great progress against those that seek to deny us the vote. Between 2002 and 2005, reports Indian Country Today, electoral participation among Indians has increased 130 percent. Congress, meanwhile, is beginning to recognize the needs of Indians. The Congressional Native American Caucus, for instance, boasts 110 members. Yet still there is not one US Senator that is an Indian, only one in the House of Representatives, and no Indian governor.
As the recent Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal has shown, Indians need honest advocates and real representation in government. They don’t need corrupt Republican lobbyists and politicians greedily seeking the highest bidder and sustaining a culture of corruption. The values of the Democratic Party – justice, fairness, equality, and community – are the values of American Indian people. That’s why INDN’s List will elect Indians as Democrats and that’s where the voice of our first Americans will be heard most faithfully. Our work will benefit Democrats up and down the ballot by building a constituency that knows it will be heard and by building support for Democratic values in communities across the country.
Indian people need support and champions at all levels of government, but more importantly we need the tools to support ourselves. The federal government must address the poverty, violence, destitution, and illness that plague so many first Americans, but Indians must both vote and be represented at all levels of government to truly end the historical marginalization of Native America. INDN’s List promotes advocacy for Indian development by going to the source: we will recruit, train, and elect Indians for public office at every level around the United States. American Indians need a voice; INDN’s List seeks to give us our own voice in the circles of power throughout this nation.
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