BOSTON - As Native delegates prepare for high visibility at the upcoming
Democratic National Convention here, the Platform Committee is hearing a
call to highlight tribal sovereignty in a document that party activists say
is already rich in references to Native issues.
Members of the Platform Committee, including two Native delegates, are
meeting in Miami July 9 and 10 to brush up a draft version of the document,
the basic statement of party principles. Although the draft included
specific mentions of Native needs in many of its domestic planks, it needed
a more prominent affirmation of tribal sovereignty and the
government-to-government relationship between tribes and the United States,
said Gwen Carr, a long-time party activist and member of the committee.
"I would very much like to see that," she said. "It is one of the things
that will be done."
An endorsement of tribal governments as the legal equals of states is not
expected to be a problem for the prospective Democratic ticket. Both Sens.
John Kerry from Massachusetts and John Edwards from North Carolina included
strong sovereignty language in their campaign position papers and have had
excellent relations with tribes in their states.
Kerry's selection of Edwards as his prospective running mate on July 6 drew
an enthusiastic response from leaders of the Lumbee Nation in Robeson
County, N.C. Lumbee Vice Chairperson Pearlean Revels said, "I was rather
awed when I got the news about Sen. Edwards because of the close ties we
have with him here in Robeson County."
Tribal Administrator Leon Jacobs said Edwards "would be a strong voice for
all American Indians, not only for the Lumbee but for Indians nationwide."
The Kerry-Edwards campaign is expected to have a strong impact on the final
version of the platform, as press reports say it did on the draft. The
chairman of the drafting committee, however, is U.S. Rep. Rosa Delauro of
Connecticut, who has joined with other members of her state's delegation in
sponsoring measures that many Native leaders in the region believe have
fostered an anti-Indian atmosphere. According to a Kerry campaign aide,
sovereignty language has been drafted for the platform. As of now, she
said, it appears on page 34 of the draft under the heading "Strong American
The Platform Committee also includes two strong Indian voices, Carr herself
and Gov. Stuwart Paisano of the Sandia Pueblo of New Mexico. Carr, a Cayuga
from New York state, is head of the American Indian Caucus of the Wisconsin
Democratic Party and a veteran of Democratic Party efforts to reach Native
voters. She praised the platform for including Native concerns in its main
domestic planks, such as housing, jobs, health care and the environment.
She also praised the Democratic Party for involving Indians in every phase
of drafting policy, not just adding them as an afterthought.
"I don't believe the Republicans do that," she said.
Both Carr and Kerry campaign workers say that Indians will be strongly
represented at the Boston Convention. At least 87 delegates, and possibly
more than 100, will be Native, including well known tribal leaders like A.
Brian Wallace, chairman of the Washoe Tribe and Frank DeMars, vice chairman
of the Nebraska Democratic Party and member of the Democratic National
An American Indian caucus will hold two meetings during the Convention on
the mornings of July 26 and 28. On July 27, Arizona Governor Janet
Napolitano and former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall will host an evening
"Tribute to our Native American Communities." The Boston urban Indian
community and the federally recognized Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe will also
Carr singled out the involvement of the Boston Indian community center.
"That's a wonderful thing that started in Chicago in 1996," she said,
referring to that year's Democratic Convention. "It involves the
off-reservation, urban Indians. Most Indian people live off reservation."
One issue looming behind the platform, however, is the federal recognition
process. Much of the mainstream press and some hostile politicians of both
parties have characterized it as a front for establishing casinos. But
leaders of petitioning tribes reject the charge as a smear and a denial of
their historic existence. The Lumbee, for instance, have sought federal
recognition under several names for more than a century. They are now
pinning their hopes on a Congressional bill initiated by U.S. Sen.
Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and endorsed by Sen. Edwards.
"If Edwards is elected vice president," said Jacobs, "we will have a strong
voice in getting federal recognition, if we don't have it before then."
The Nipmuc Nation, based in Sutton, Mass., now hopes that a Kerry
presidency would reverse the recent denial of its recognition petition by
Principal Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary - Indian Affairs Aurene
Martin. The Nipmucs briefly won a positive finding from acting BIA head
Michael Anderson in the last days of the Clinton Administration, but the
decision was frozen and later reversed by the Bush administration. As
Senator, Kerry along with the entire Massachusetts Congressional
delegation, supported the Nipmuc petition.