Elections 2012: American Indian Issues are Prominent at DNC

American Indian issues are prominent at the Democratic National Convention. Tonight Denise Juneau, a Mandan and Hidatsa, who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation, will speak. She’s the superintendent of public instruction and the first American Indian woman elected to a statewide office.

She’s speaking at 7 p.m. Est, so it’s not quite prime time. But people can tune in via the Democratic National Convention’s live stream, on some cable outlets, and on C-SPAN.

Even though it’s not on network television, it’s a big deal because it highlights American Indian issues, in this case, education, for delegates at the convention. It’s a step toward prime time when some future American Indian or Alaska Native politician will be hailed for their keynote speech (such as San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro’s talk last night.)

There is a significantly greater presence of American Indian delegates – some 150 representatives – and issues at the Democratic National Convention than was present in Tampa at the Republican National Convention.

Alvin Warren, Santa Clara Pueblo, and a former New Mexico state cabinet member, told KOAT Television in Albuquerque that President Obama has done more for Native Americans than any other president. Ever. “There were significant issues the president addressed in his first term,” Warren told the TV station.

Cherokee Chief Bill John Baker had the same message in The Daily Oklahoman. “Through the years, Indian tribal chiefs have met a lot of U.S. presidents, but the meetings with Obama have been more than just superficial photo opportunities,” he told the newspaper. “This president has made promises to Indian country, and he's kept them.”

The list of President Obama’s fulfilled promises starts with an annual government-to-government conference with tribal nations at the White House. He’s signed into law the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, a key element of the Affordable Care Act.

The Native American Council is on the Democratic convention’s website, touting that record of success on issues ranging from health to the Tribal Law & Order Act.

“Delegate Lona Wilbur set the tone for the meeting of leaders and activists in the Native American community,” the DNC website says. Wilbur is a member of the Democratic National Committee and she reported: “It matters who we put in office so we have our needs met. President Obama has sent more funding to Indian country than any president in recent memory,” she said. She encouraged every person in the room to get involved to achieve better tribal representation in local, state and national governments.”

The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was a speaker at the Native American Council (which is a step below an official caucus). She said there was record Native American turnout in the presidential election four years ago. “We must meet and exceed that turnout this year,” according to the DNC website. “This election, especially for Native Americans, is personal ... we can’t afford to go back to an administration that will decide what’s best for you and let you know without including you or giving you a voice.”

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.