The Democrats got off to a great start this week in Boston. For American
Indians, it was heart-strengthening to see Indian country represented by
the Tohono O'odham singers' rendition - in their own language - of the
"Star Spangled Banner." As observers witnessed and the camera showed in the
panned crowd, there were people crying in recognition of what they were
It was impossible to miss the approach to unity and inclusion in Boston. It
was impossible except for the politically blind not to see that the
Democrats have honed their message to a fine edge: With clarity, eloquence
and cohesiveness they called out the Bush administration, which stood
accused of a lack of effective leadership.
On issue after issue, eloquent and well-prepared speakers challenged the
incoherence of President Bush's administration: The off-and-on-and-off
again economy; the devil-may-care attitude to the soaring trillion dollar
deficit; the give-to-the-rich-and-damn-the-poor tax policies; the
misinformed, ill-conceived and seriously flawed execution of the Iraq War.
Former President Bill Clinton went even beyond himself, as he honed some of
the best oratory in recent history, with extensive arguments and the simple
yet resounding thought: "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values ...
they go hand in hand."
The former president sent out a message that embraced American Indian
values; so did the much-heralded Barack (Blessed One) Obama, the son of a
tribal African man and American mother, a sharp new-generation activist who
stands to become U.S. Senator from Illinois, and is a rising star. Obama,
from all reports, including that of our own Associate Editor Jim Adams, who
was on site, electrified the gathering with his masterful and
The American Indian presence at the Democratic convention was hard to miss.
Some 250 Indians attended the Native American Caucus meetings, among them
103 as Democratic Party delegates. Particularly in the aftermath of the
Tohono O'odham singing, several commentators spoke of Indian issues on
national television, most notably New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who
emphasized the "swing" importance of the Indian vote in his own state and
in South Dakota. On July 28, Sandia Pueblo Gov. Stuwart Paisano addressed
the convention to assert tribal sovereignty, which has been firmly
inscribed onto the Democratic Party platform. One section "A Strong
American Community" included the statement, "We honor the sovereignty of
American Indians and reaffirm our commitment to respectful and meaningful
government-to-government relations." The statement raised criticism among
elements of the right-wing media. However, people like Gwen Carr, Cayuga,
Democratic political activist and member of the platform committee, were
there to argue how it reflects basic American constitutional principles.
Most importantly, Presidential candidate John Kerry has repeatedly stated
respect for Indian nations and expressed his intention to keep a White
House "open door" to tribal leaders.
Calm, collected, highly intelligent and a man of obvious sincerity,
Senator, now candidate Kerry, cuts a mature and dignified presidential
figure. A veteran who "earned his medals the old-fashioned way," as wife
Theresa reminded the audience, Kerry emerges as a formidable candidate from
the Democratic Convention.
No doubt, there will be some freedom-loving American Indians who will
consider that Indians singing America's National Anthem for the whole
country is something negative or, at the very least, naive, perhaps even
intoning the old accusation that the mere participation in the American
electoral system is to betray Indian sovereignty itself. We believe,
however, that at this time in history sovereign American Indian governments
are gaining exponentially in capacity with each passing day. Participation
in all facets of life and politics, from within our own distinct and
self-governing tribal nations and with other governments outside our tribal
nations, is a crucial requirement of our times. American Indian nations
need not stand apart so much as to re-affirm their free yet foundational
role within the Americas, within Indian country. In that woven basket that
America represents, the Indian fibers tie up the four first corners and
represent the original cultural and historical linkages to the land. The
tribal nations continue to signal the freedom of the human spirit that bind
and define the American experience.
To our editorial eye, this season, the Democrats are making serious
advances in understanding and incorporating the concerns and aspirations
common to our tribal objectives. This is to the good, and to see the
welcomed participation of so many Indian delegates and attendees is doubly
encouraging. More and more, we are intrigued and pleased by this Democratic
Party outreach to Indian country. Where respect is given, respect is
returned. That, along with a steady application of honor, is all America's
first peoples have asked of those relatively new to these lands.
Furthermore, we like the moderated yet firmly critical tone of the
Democratic Party in this campaign. The Democratics convention, we hope, is
leaving American politics a little cleaner.
This national mainstream issue, the integrity and quality of the American
political discourse, is critically important. The appalling trend toward
personal insult mixed with misinformation, led on television by pundits
like the viperous Ann Coulter, and on talk-radio indoctrination shows by
propagandistic Rush Limbaugh and his legion of imitators, we believe, has
been extremely detrimental to a positive, unifying and constructive
At the convention, a major surprise for anyone who had not heard her before
was Theresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of candidate John F. Kerry, who impressed
with her personal maturity and depth of intelligence. Fluent in five
languages, an ardent nature lover and environmentalist, Theresa has been
much-reviled as a "loose cannon" by the far and not-so-far right-wing
attack machine. Bill Kristol, the neo-con cheerleader who championed an
Iraq war that most self-reliant thinkers recognize as a glaring mistake,
immediately attacked her as "self-indulgent." In real time and in her own
words, however, she projected a serious and believably compassionate
character - much unlike what the pundits would have us believe. Her
stirring call for respect for women's intelligence and leadership was
broadly well received. We acknowledge her international experience and the
good intentions of her words.
It would be silly to pretend a "non-partisan" approach at any national
party convention. But the Democratic Party Convention, gearing up for a
three-month campaign to defeat the Republicans, projected a combative yet
dignified approach. By contrast, the vast array of Republican attack dogs,
particularly on talk-shows that seem to cover all the airwaves in this
country, are unrelentingly nasty, personal and destructive. We encourage
Indian country and all in America to reject their behavior as well as their
To be fair, Indian country has many good friends and loyal supporters among
Republican luminaries, people we appreciate and respect, who have not
succumbed to the extremists and fundamentalists within their midst. We look
forward to covering that party convention as well. Furthermore, we respect
and appreciate the Indian advocates working within the Republican Party and
we certainly hope the GOP puts forth a compelling case for why Indian
country should support its candidate for another four years.
As of this past week, however, the odds are diminishing that Indian country
will be convinced of that position. To paraphrase what President Bush told
the Urban League recently in respect to African Americans, as far as Indian
nations are concerned, "the GOP has a lot of work to do."