The man who became a son of the Crow Nation and given the name “One who helps people throughout the land” is now a world leader.
On Nov. 4, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States. A great barrier in American politics has been broken, with certain measure.
Voters of all ages, colors, and stations overwhelmingly rejected the historical notion that the presidency belongs solely to privileged white males. They rejected identity politics that preyed on fear, instead focusing collective energy on hope, aspiration, and positive change. This defining moment in history belongs not only to the Obamas, but to the millions who worked for and waited a lifetime to witness it.
The Obama campaign was unprecedented in many ways, most notably for its unlikely candidate, a 47-year-old African-American junior senator from Illinois. But Obama’s timely message of unity and purpose inspired into action millions of first-time and minority voters. He garnered overwhelming support among Native people, including youth and elders who identified with Obama’s humility and work ethic. A pragmatic strategy resulted in record returns across all demographics, sending the strong signal that voters are worn out by exclusionary politics and transparent fear mongering.
During his campaign, Obama did not focus on race. With so many issues pressing down hard on the country, the color of his skin mattered far less than the content of his character. Truly, this election awarded the maturity of the candidate as well as the nation. Now will not be the end of racism or prejudice, but it is an acknowledgement that every person has a role in – and a responsibility to – democracy. As Americans continue to celebrate this profound moment in history, watchers around the world are doing the same. It bodes well for restoring the bruised image of the United States at home and abroad.
This defining moment in history belongs not only to the Obamas, but to the millions who have worked for and waited a lifetime to witness it.
In his acceptance speech, president-elect Obama asked a sea of thousands in Chicago and countless millions watching worldwide, “If our children should live to see the next century … what change will they see? What progress will we have made?” He evoked a wise indigenous concept – considering the seventh generation, our descendants yet unborn to whom we bear an enormous responsibility. Obama invited the whole world to ponder these questions, ones that captured both his and the country’s collective mindset at this pivotal time. Native leaders and individuals consider these questions in their deliberations; it is refreshing and encouraging that the next occupant of the White House will share the same philosophy.
As he steps into the leading role during a most perilous time, President Obama will seek to prove that politics does not have to be a blood sport but can aid the fulfillment of the best hopes of the people. For a brief time, policy will take a backseat to community pride. There is a new national confidence that our ideals of freedom, equality, opportunity can indeed be realized and not just dreamed. Promises are not policy, and it is encouraging that Obama is seeking bipartisan (and maybe even nonpartisan) solutions to the nation’s myriad problems. It will take serious and continuous hard work to sustain this positive momentum.
Appreciation and congratulations are due for the robust efforts among Native people and organizations, in particular NCAI, to get out the vote in 2008. American Indian participation was remarkable this cycle, whether demonstrated by the presidential candidates’ Native coalitions, detailed Indian policies, community events, or by the courting of Native voters in state and local races. Many sacrificed long days and nights away from their families to make sure others were able to exercise their right to vote if they chose to do so.
Native people have long demonstrated the ability and a determination to contribute to the success of their tribal nations and of the United States. This significant message won’t need to be shown or told to the next president. It is certain that Barack Obama will go to the White House with a solid grasp of it.