The fate of nations can turn on a single event. In a few short weeks, a new
president of the United States will be elected. For four years, Indian
country has suffered through a president who does not care about and fails
to understand our issues. George W. Bush does not respect the sovereignty
of our governments, does not recognize our unique place in the nation's
history, and has no regard for the hopes and dreams of our people. If this
president remains in office for another four years, the damage to the
Indian nations of this country will be great and perhaps beyond repair.
This election, like the one four years ago, will be decided by a narrow
margin. The Indian peoples of the United States have a rare opportunity to
rise up and, through the democratic process, take control of their fate and
put in the White House a man who understands, listens to and cares about
us. That man is John Kerry.
I had the honor of serving as a delegate to the Democratic National
Convention in Boston. My conviction that only the Democratic Party can
build a better, safer, more just America was strengthened and further
solidified. American Indians were highlighted at several points during the
convention. A tribal leader addressed the delegates. Citizens of the Tohono
O'Odham Nation sang the National Anthem in their Native language. The
Democratic Native Caucus, 130 Native delegates strong, met and heard from
party leaders including Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. Tom Daschle, Sen. Jeff
Bingaman, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Rep. Tom Udall and others.
Only a few weeks after the Democratic Convention, John Kerry met at length
with Indian leaders in the course of a train ride that began in
Albuquerque, N.M., and finished in Flagstaff, Ariz., crossing five Indian
reservations. The trip was highlighted by a visit to the Inter-Tribal
Indian Ceremonial Pow Wow in Gallup, N.M. where Sen. Kerry received a
special blessing prayer by Navajo spiritual leaders. Kerry spoke at length
and from the heart with tribal leaders about his commitment to Indian
nations and Indian peoples. He listened to what the tribal leaders and
Indian people had to say. His obvious knowledge about sovereignty and the
needs of tribal peoples was deeply appreciated. This depth of knowledge is
detailed on the Indian issues section of his Web site, www.johnkerry.com.
He also made specific commitments to tribal leaders, including: Appointing
an American Indian to a senior position in the White House; appointing
American Indians as federal judges; increasing funding for the Indian
Health Service, Indian education, transportation programs and other
programs that support Indian nations; elevating the Director of the Indian
Health Service to an Assistant Secretary within the Department of Health
and Human Services; meaningful trust account reforms; and several other
John Kerry understands our inherent sovereignty. It is scary that George W.
Bush did not have a clue what these words meant as we learned in his
presentation at the minority journalists conference a few months ago.
George W. has no policy with regard to Indian country. Indian country has
waited four years for the Bush administration to articulate an appropriate
Indian policy, but we got only budget cuts, the stonewalling of tribal
positions on trust fund reform, the nomination of judges to the federal
judiciary who are hostile to tribal sovereignty, and a general
unwillingness to engage in an open and honest dialogue.
Four years ago, George W. Bush became the president by the narrowest of
margins, ultimately being appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is likely
that this year's election will also be decided by a razor-thin margin. Al
Gore won New Mexico by only 366 votes. This fall, thousands of Navajos in
the Shiprock area will vote in the presidential election with the clear
majority voting for John Kerry and John Edwards.
There has never been another time in history when the Native vote has been
more critical and more important to the outcome of an election - this is
power. But that power is meaningless if Native people do not go to the
polls. Let's make sure all our relations are registered and let's vote for
Indian country. Vote for John Kerry and John Edwards to help secure the
survival of Native America.
Duane 'Chili' Yazzie is president of the Shiprock Chapter, Navajo Nation.