Denise Juneau’s speech was not long. It wasn’t the kind of keynote talk where commentators on Fox News jump in and complain. Or those on MSNBC who proclaim the talk as the best ever. Juneau even joked about it on her Facebook page. “I speak Wednesday evening ... Don't blink, you may miss me.”
But those 10 minutes were significant, especially across Indian country. This was the first time an American Indian woman was given the opportunity to tell a story as important as any keynote.
“It looks great to be up here,” she said with a smile. “All the way from Big Sky Country. I am proud to be here as a Montanan. As an educator. As a Democrat. And as a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa Tribes.”
She also said she’s proud to be the first American Indian woman in history to win a statewide election.
She was told by her parents that education was the road to success. Her mom, Carol Juneau, is a Montana delegate. That road took her from Browning High School to Montana State University, to Harvard, and back to the University of Montana Law School. She credited teachers who advocated for her success – and now as the Superintendent of Public Instruction she now advocates for teachers.
She said this story “compels us” to support President Barack Obama’s re-election. She said he understands how education is an investment in the future. “School is the only place where they get a hot meal and warm hug,” she said. “Teachers are the only ones who tell our kids they can go from an Indian reservation to the Ivy League. From the home of a struggling single mom to the White House.”
Juneau said the president knows the American Indian story is part of America’s story, both hopeful and painful chapters.
She listed several reasons why American Indians should support the president with issues ranging from settling the Cobell lawsuit to the White House Tribal Nations Summit.
“It was a proud day in Montana when President Obama visited the Crow Nation and became an adopted member,” she said. “He was given a Crow name that day. It translates to ‘One Who Helped People throughout the Land.’ That is more than an adopted name. That is at the core of who he is, that is his mission.”
That is why, she said, in November “we will re-elect President Obama.”
On Facebook, Juneau’s fans were aware of this moment being historical. Many offered congratulations. Others thanked her for representing Montana so well. “Home run,” said another.
And all in 10 minutes. Ten minutes of history. But remember that much of history builds on the platform of things that have come before. So in four years, eight years, that same stage is set for Juneau or another American Indian leader to return and give the prime time keynote. Then the reporters on television might chatter ... “why haven’t we seen this before?” Of course we can all smile, knowing that we have.