Cynthia McKinney connects Green Party values to Indigenous principles

WASHINGTON – While many people have celebrated the historic inclusion of a black man and a woman in the 2008 presidential primaries, there has been less said about the equally notable participation of a presidential candidate who is both black and a woman.

Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney and her Puerto Rican vice presidential candidate, Rosa Clemente, also represent another first – the first all-women of color ticket in U.S. presidential history.

McKinney served six terms as a Democratic congresswoman from Georgia in 1993 – 2003 and 2005 – 07. She was the first black woman to represent Georgia in Congress.

Clemente, a community organizer, journalist and hip-hop activist, is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany and Cornell University. She has been delivering workshops, presentations and commentary for more than 10 years.

While the Green Party candidates currently are running at about 1 percent in the polls in the 40-plus states where they are on the ballot, McKinney has pledged to use her candidacy “to advance the preservation of democracy.”

The Greens advocate for social justice, peace, democracy and respect for the Earth. In an e-mail exchange with Indian Country Today, McKinney detailed how the party would apply these values to Indian country.

She sees tribal sovereignty, treaty obligations, and religious and cultural preservation as intertwined. The U.S. government has “selective amnesia” and never intended to honor the treaties, but it is obligated to do so without question, McKinney said, and also to adequately fund programs for the betterment of American Indians and affirm their religious rights.

“How can a people survive, let alone thrive, absent their religion, spirituality, culture, language and sense of place? I support and strongly encourage religious and cultural preservation in Indian country and urge protection of sacred sites, whichever side of the map boundary they fall upon.”

On IHS funding, McKinney said that the Green Party’s call for universal single-payer health care would provide medical, mental and dental benefits to everyone within the United States, including Native women and veterans. She also embraces traditional indigenous medicine and healing.

“Health care needs to be treated as a human right and removed from the economic gaming field. Until such time as indigenous peoples are covered under such a policy, we Greens support generous IHS funding, including recognition of both Western and non-Western methods of healing. Western medicine deals quite well with trauma, but has much to learn from ‘energetic/spiritual’ traditional methods recognizing the implicit agreement between seen and unseen aspects of reality.”

McKinney said that the rampant substance abuse on reservations is part and parcel of a legacy of oppression and dispossession.

“It offers the hollow promise of filling the void left by cultural obliteration. The sacred has been replaced by the profane. ‘Treaty’ dictates have enforced a substantial and abrupt end to traditional lifeways. For all of these reasons, it is incumbent upon the U.S. government to support IHS.”

Tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship are bound in the issues of independence, legal recognition, respect and the treaty obligations that have been denied and eroded, McKinney said: “Tribes must now regain their political authority.”

That applies to all Native peoples, she said, including those not formally recognized as tribes by the U.S. government.

American Indians are not “minorities” to be assimilated or to have their traditions terminated. “Rather than take power away, even with the apparent good intent of keeping Indians from selling off their lands and dissolving (e.g. Johnson’s and Graham’s Lessee v. M’Intosh, 1823), the real problem of there being no truly independent powerful political entity to enforce the original treaties has never been addressed.

“Greens value decentralization and local control, but the catch with self-determination and tribal control over mineral resources, education and energy is that it is not and must not be a substitute or bargaining chip further erasing original obligations of the U.S. under original sovereignty agreements.”

She urges Native peoples to continue to acquire acumen in legal and economic matters, and to leverage their original sovereignty into enforceable protections of hunting and fishing rights, access to water and other resources and provisions in anticipation of environmental changes due to global warming.

“In short, then, tribes must continue to be as self-reliant as possible, to develop sustainably and outside the disconnected ‘wage pay’ way of life in which people are not connected to their localities. A return to fair, traditional local governance; traditional values; a selective taking of modern methods of energy-efficient, sustainable design of housing and water treatment, and a tribal insistence on local organic agriculture (including wind-tolerant green; houses) will go a long way toward helping tribal people live well into
the future.”

In education, Greens support language revitalization, culturally oriented curriculum and funding for both.

McKinney reiterated the party’s unequivocal support for workers’ right to organize, but questioned the National Labor Relations Board decision that employees on sovereign tribal land are subject to federal labor law.

“It leaves one to wonder where the U.S. federal government will draw the line upholding sovereignty. As a sovereign nation, the affected tribe is not subject to federal labor laws, as the U.S. Supreme Court may one day need to correctly argue. In setting legal precedents, one needs to support, not undercut, the independence afforded by sovereignty and avoid that ‘slippery slope’ of taking yet more away from tribes, even if ‘well-intentioned.’

“While I support any efforts by the National Labor Relations Board, hobbled though it may be by [the] Taft-Hartley [Act], to protect the right to organize workers, I fear that any decision on the union at Foxwoods [Resort Casino] in that the organization is testing the bounds of its jurisdiction.