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Campaign 2004: Web site evidence, Kerry, Gephardt, Clark attentive to Indian country

WASHINGTON - By the evidence of their Web sites, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, former candidate Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Gen. Wesley Clark pay the most attention to Indian country of the major candidates for President.

Word searches of President Bush's site (www.georgewbush.com) turns up nothing substantive on Indian issues, although he does have some nice words to say about Native Hawaiians and their culture in a speech posted on the site, while First Lady Laura Bush states her admiration for Sacagawea during another speech.

However, Gen. Clark has an official position paper on Indian issues posted on his site, while Sen. Kerry gives his positions and a speech he made to the National Congress of American Indians with personal recollections of trips to Indian country.

As of Nov. 3, 2003, Rep. Gephardt, who recently dropped out of the race, had gotten the most campaign contributions from Indian gaming interests, $35,500, while President Bush had received $18,000, according to data posted by the Center for Responsive Politics on its Web site opensecrets.org. Sen. Kerry and Gen. Clark had received nothing.

According to Rep. Gephardt's position paper, a Gephardt Presidency will be "supporting tribal sovereignty, and ensuring that Native Americans have access to quality education, health care and housing - along with the tools necessary for economic development. My administration will develop policies rooted in a close dialogue with tribal leaders to ensure that the welfare of Native Americans is protected and promoted."

The site (www.dickgephardt2004.com) then lists 11 bullet points, including increasing funding for tribal programs, upholding governmental trust responsibility towards Indians, consultation with tribal leaders, adding Indians to the federal payroll, and continuing self-governance policies.

The Congressman pointed to his sponsorship of H.R. 731, which would grant citizenship to all members of the Tohono O'odham tribe, to allow them free travel across the U.S.-Mexican border.

His site also touts his opposition to the "Istook Amendment" on trust land issues in 1997 and the "Weldon Amendment" on tribal gaming in 2000. He cited both amendments as anti-Indian.

In funding, "Gephardt has supported significant increases for the Special Diabetes program for Indians, establishment of the American Indian Education Foundation, and affordable housing development through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act."

Gen. Clark's Web site (www.clark04.com) includes a four-point Indian position paper, touching on "respecting tribal sovereignty," "improving health care in Indian country," "achieving meaningful economic development," and "homeland security ought to include the entire homeland."

"America's Native people have long championed many of the ideals that Wes Clark highlights in his vision for America, including respect for our environment and for the bonds of family, community and tradition," the campaign says.

On sovereignty, Clark says the U.S. government "needs to treat tribal governments like the sovereign, independent entities they are. Tribal leaders, rather than the federal government, know what's best for their communities."

This means consultation and living up to tribal trust responsibility, the candidate says. "If the federal government can figure out how to get tens of billions of dollars all the way to Iraq, then it should be able to account for the money owed to American citizens."

On health care, Clark says it is "inexcusable" that the Indian Health Service is facing a $2.9 billion shortfall, especially since one in four Indians suffers from diabetes. Clark "has a health care plan to provide universal access to affordable insurance for all Americans, and universal coverage for all children."

On economic development, the Clark campaign points to his plan to take back some of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and create a $100 billion job creation fund. Clark "is also committed to promoting access to capital and asset building in Indian country, and to extending the Indian employment tax credit."

On homeland security, he is promising to reverse a policy that gives no funding directly to tribal governments near the national borders.

Sen. Kerry (www.johnkerry.com) feels "the federal government must partner with tribes to improve access to health care, provide more educational opportunities, and strengthen economic development efforts."

It includes a speech he gave (remotely) to the 2003 annual conference of the National Congress of American Indians in Albuquerque, N.M. in which he promised "to create an unprecedented partnership with tribal governments to improve the lives of Native Americans all over America."

He describes a trip he made to reservations in Arizona and New Mexico after returning from armed service in Vietnam to dedicate a veterans chapel.

"What I saw there never left me - and gave me a passion to redress the wrongs faced by Native Americans. I saw inadequate housing, children without real educations, men and women without hope. But I also saw a people committed to a better life and proud of their noble heritage."

He promised, if elected President to increase funding for the Indian Health Service, build roads and housing, stimulate economic development, increase loans to Native-owned businesses, and repair and build new Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.

"Forty percent of homes in tribal communities are overcrowded and need repairs and we need a President who gets to work on this."

The senator also promised a Native American position within the Department of Homeland Security.