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Dean: Building a stronger Native America, government to government

Over the course of my experience in public office, I have realized that there is a dire need for a serious grassroots movement to get our citizens more motivated and involved in the democratic process. We have built the Dean for America campaign based on this recognition. However, we need only look to the Native American community to see how people with a common vision can educate local, state and national politicians about their issues and become a political force to be reckoned with.

Through grassroots movements, efforts to raise awareness, political contributions, and the Native vote, Native Americans were critical in the 2000 and 2002 races for the U.S. Senate: defeating former Senator Slade Gorton and re-electing Senator Tim Johnson. Even in the recent California Gubernatorial elections, you secured a place at the table through activism and aggressive campaigning. Right now, the Native vote will be crucial in deciding who becomes the Democratic candidate for President, with states such as Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oklahoma having their primaries on February 3. And in November, Native Americans will be crucial to ultimately choosing the next President of the United States.

I congratulate all those Tribes and individuals for stepping up to the plate and becoming leaders in their communities, states and nationally; for getting involved and ensuring that state governments, Congress, and now Presidential candidates listen to you. It has been long deserved.

I can relate to the determined activism shown by Indian country. My campaign started a year ago with seven staff and $157,000. Today, we have over half a million supporters, with over 280,000 of them contributing $40 million to ensure that a new President is elected.

Why a new President? Because these people want a President who will listen to the average American, the disadvantaged, and the Native American. A President who will lead our Country, and Indian country, in a better direction, uniting people instead of dividing. A President who will build coalitions among Nations, including our Native Nations, and also among our citizens and ethnic groups, for a better America and World. A President who will protect all our borders and lands, including our Native lands. A President who really ensure that no child is left behind, including a Native child. A President who will work to provide health care to everyone and every child, including Native Americans. A President who will respect and honor our relationship with our Native Nations.

Native America: your voice is being heard. But it is not being heard by the current President, George W. Bush, who has yet to visit an Indian reservation during his four years in office. President Bush has yet to attend any National Congress of American Indians event, even though five Democratic Presidential candidates did. President Bush has yet to develop and post a Native American Platform addressing the concerns that face Indian country. There is no Native American staff person dedicated to working with Indian country in Bush's White House. President Bush left the leadership of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Service vacant for months. And President Bush chose to fight against the trust responsibility owed to our Native Americans in both the Supreme Court and in federal courts.

Native America: your voice is being heard. It may not be heard by the current President, but it is being heard by the next President.

In developing the visions for my campaign, I sought advice and input from Native Americans and Tribes because I believe that any successful government-to-government relationship must have input from both governments. There must be meaningful consultation. And because I am serious about ensuring that meaningful consultation continues into the White House, I have committed to select a Native American person to serve in my White House. That way, Native Nations will be able to communicate directly with the White House, in a manner that is appropriate for a true government-to-government relationship. And there are specific policy goals that a Dean Administration will work toward:

Trust Fund Mismanagement. Rectifying the mismanagement of Indian trust funds will be top priority. The United States has been failing with respect to its obligations of properly managing Indian trust funds for too long. It is time for the White House to recognize this and work to resolve the problem quickly instead of continuing to fight against liability. Other Indian programs are suffering because of the high costs associated with the trust fund debacle.

Health Care. As a doctor, this issue is of extreme importance to me. I believe that you cannot have healthy communities and Nations without healthy people. As President I will ensure that Native Americans are fully considered in setting national health policy. I will support the bipartisan effort to elevate the position of the Director of the Indian Health Service to the position of Assistant Secretary and increase funding for the Indian Health Service.

Education. In 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, but has failed to provide proper funding for the Act. This is not good enough for the almost half a million Native students in the public and BIA-funded school systems. As President, I will increase education funding, work to ensure that BIA-funded schools are safe for our Native children, fully fund the continuation of Indian Head Start programs, and support bilingual and multicultural education programs. Additionally, I will support the advancement, strengthening and growth of tribal colleges and universities.

Transportation, Housing, and Infrastructure. Basic infrastructure and housing is fundamental for safe communities and true economic development. Under Bill Clinton, funding for Indian housing increased each year, but President Bush has failed to provide any additional funding. It will be impossible for Native Nations to achieve meaningful self-sufficiency without an adequate infrastructure and housing. As President, I will support increased funding for the Indian Reservation Roads program, the Indian Housing Block Grant Program, and other programs that provide funding for basic infrastructure needs.

Homeland Security. I believe that it is critical to ensure that all of America's borders and lands are protected from terrorist activities, and that proper emergency management systems are in place to respond to both natural and intentional disasters. President Bush has failed to ensure that any funds are directly available for tribes. As part of my commitment to respect the government-to-government relationship, I will ensure that Tribes will be able to deal directly access funds for homeland security and emergency preparedness.

I appreciate the opportunity to share a few of my ideas about how we can make America - including Native American Nations - better. I encourage you to visit my website at www.deanforamerica.com, both to review more information on my positions and to provide me with your thoughts and feedback. With your help and support, we can take back the White House and ensure that Native America receives the government-to-government relationship, financial and legal support, and respect that you deserve.

Dr. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for president.