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Clinton presents plan for Native America

WASHINGTON - Sen. Hillary Clinton made her most concerted bid yet for the nationwide Native vote in next year's presidential primaries Nov. 6, announcing endorsements from some fourscore tribal leaders and individuals and detailing a platform of support for tribal sovereignty, government-to-government consultation, and the federal trust responsibility toward tribes.

In addition, the Democratic presidential candidate and senator from New York pledged to appoint American Indians, with their on-the-ground grasp of Native issues, to key posts within government, including her own direct liaison to Native communities; nominate judges who respect tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship; elevate the director of the IHS to assistant secretary ''so that he or she can advocate more effectively for Native American health care needs''; increase Indian Head Start and educational funding; promote alternative energy sources among tribal governments and ''work to fund the weatherization of all low-income homes in Indian country''; and bring more resources and better data to law enforcement in Indian country.

Days in advance of Veterans Day, Clinton said that under her administration, veteran benefits will extend to all veterans, including the 20,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives serving as of December 2005. Citing the ''Heroes at Home'' legislation she has sponsored in the Senate, authorizing work leave for family members of wounded veterans, she added, ''When someone volunteers to serve America, we serve them.''

And only days after unprecedented Indian engagement at a social investment forum conference in the Southwest on philanthropy and environmentally responsible investing, Clinton said a White House roundtable on philanthropy could be in for a reprise if she is elected president. The first such roundtable, organized under the auspices of the former first lady during her husband Bill Clinton's presidency, helped to raise the profile of American Indian and international indigenous issues in foundation, financial management, corporate giving and not-for-profit organizational circles. ''I'm very committed to working with [them] ... and I will continue to build on the work that I've done over many years,'' Clinton said. ''I'm very proud of that roundtable, but we've got a lot to do.''

Clinton's Native-specific agenda has been years in the making, going back to extensive meetings with tribes in 2004 and extensive engagement with Indian country during the Bill Clinton administration, from 1992 to 2000. In the early days of the current 110th Congress, Democratic-leaning critics within the Washington lobbying community, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid being associated with an overly negative view of the prospects for Indian-specific legislation, questioned whether Clinton and the new Democratic majority were moving forcefully enough on an Indian platform that was already in place. But that particular criticism has abated somewhat against the political reality of narrow majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives - enough to raise and debate issues by virtue of committee chairmanships, but often not enough to enact a legislative agenda against determined Republican opposition.

Clinton's endorsements, drawn from most of the geographic regions of Indian country excepting Alaska, indicate depth of support, according to the campaign.