DEARBORN, Mich. - As the Green Party ticket emerges as a factor in the presidential race, vice presidential nominee Winona LaDuke said she plans to show the power of the Indian vote.
LaDuke, the White Earth Ojibwe activist, is Ralph Nader's running mate for the second election in a row. This time mainstream parties are taking them seriously. Polls show the Green Party ticket could siphon enough votes from the Democrats to throw crucial states to Republican candidate George W. Bush. Some columnists attack Nader and LaDuke as "spoilers."
The charge doesn't bother LaDuke, who was here to address the first annual conference of the Native American Business Alliance.
"Do they call Pat Buchanan a spoiler, too?" she asked about the conservative writer who is running for the Reform Party nomination. "Who said that we should only be allowed to choose between two candidates?"
LaDuke said she would be trying to split the Democrat's most solid bloc of support, the Indian vote. First Nations voters go more overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates than even African-Americans, she said, and as a result, the Democrats take them for granted.
"Nothing is stopping Al Gore from giving support to the Indian Trust Account case, "she said. "Nothing is stopping him from giving support to government-to-government relations. He could say, "We're going to return more land to the tribes. But he doesn't, because he doesn't have to court the Indian vote."
This vote has already decided some contests, she said. "Montana has 60,000 Indian voters," she said. "The last election, they provided a razor-thin victory for Clinton."
She said, her campaign would focus on Indian voters and rural areas, specifically in the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Illinois, Michigan and the Southwest.
The Green ticket would mount a more formidable campaign this year than in 1996, when it was on the ballot in 22 states and spent all of $5,000, LaDuke said. Even with that incredibly low budget, it received 1 percent of the national vote and up to 3 percent in strongholds such as California, Oregon and Washington state. This year, she said, it would be on the ballot in more than 40 states and spend at least $1 million.
State Democratic Parties are already reacting, she said. "When I get home, I have a big cardboard box from the Illinois Democratic Party waiting for me. It contains copies of our petitions to be on the ballot, with markings saying that this person isn't at this address or saying that this zip code is wrong." This challenge showed a serious effort and was bound to be repeated in other key states, she said.
LaDuke endorsed Nader's platform of economic justice, decentralized power and ecological wisdom. She also stressed Indian country issues such as strengthening tribal sovereignty, returning treaty lands and freeing Leonard Peltier.
Her politics didn't stand in the way of a warm reception from the business-suited NABA audience, salted with officers from Detroit auto companies and other Fortune 500 corporations.
She singled out a "right-wing" cousin, Altin R. Paulson, who helped organize the smoothly run conference and said that in her family spectrum, she was actually a moderate.
"Some of my cousins at Leech Lake are way out there," she said.
She described her grass-roots work in the White Earth Land Recovery Project, developing native products such as maple sugar and wild rice.
During the interview, the young mother of three demonstrated her unique character as a national politician by pausing to nurse her five-month old son Gwekaanimad, nicknamed "Gway."