ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - New Mexico and Colorado tribal leaders took advantage of a unique opportunity to meet one-on-one with Vice President Al Gore and sound him out on issues confronting Indian country.
With the political heat turned on high, both candidates, Gore and Texas Gov. George Bush are hot on the trail of the Indian vote.
The All Indian Pueblo Council had already announced support for Gore. Sitting in a circle with pueblo governors and other leaders Aug. 29, the vice president pledged to continue addressing vital concerns such as sovereignty, economic development, clean water, law enforcement, health care, for school construction and in improving education of Native youth.
Expressing gratitude for the support, Gore pledged he would "strive to make it a time when the relationship between the federal government and each pueblo is transformed for the benefit of Indian people. ... This is a challenge I want to take head-on."
Red Eagle Rael, governor of Picuris Pueblo, asked about the land into trust issue which is generating a lot of opposition.
"I caught him briefly at the end and he said he would support us in getting land put into trust," Rael said. "Rural tribes like Picuris are so remote and far from any big cities and metropolitan areas. We would like to acquire land closer to the cities. I know that is a big concern because some of the gaming tribes are buying land and putting casinos on it. But there are also other forms of economic development that we are interested in."
Gore said his party has an obligation not to select one single issue, "but to address all of these issues, the ones I have mentioned and others." Given the opportunity, he said, "The relationship with tribal nations will be transformed for the benefit of the Indian people because we are looking toward a brighter future."
Speaking of the excitement about the future he observed at the recent Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, Gore asked tribal leaders, "How do we harness this energy, this spirit, in the most constructive way possible? There is a spiritual challenge. All of these political ... economic and social issues ... we are talking about, that must be addressed, have a spiritual challenge at their core.
"Who are we? What is our relationship to one another? What does Creator intend for us to do? What can we do to lift up the spirits of all our people in honoring our ancestors, in honoring our traditions, our different cultures, absolutely respecting the differences that are important to all of us?"
Admitting there are lessons to learn, Gore invited tribal leaders to his campaign headquarters, "So that we can show you exactly what our strategy is and what our plans are. We would like to take the initiative to set-up a briefing, a consultation, at our headquarters in Nashville for those of you who wish to be an integral part of this campaign."
Taos Pueblo Gov. Don Lightningbow spoke of the need for more options in home loans to improve or build reservation housing. Alvino Lucero, governor of Isleta Pueblo, added a concern that not enough money is going to public schools near reservations. He said a recent New Mexico study ranked these schools near the bottom.
"It needs to be shown that 90 percent of Native American students go to public schools. ...We have a need for BIA operational funds, but not every pueblo is blessed with having a BIA school on the reservation. The majority of our students attend public schools. It seems that the most forgotten child is the Native American that attends public school. I need your help with this," Lucero said.
In closing, Council Chairman Stanley Pino said, "The pueblos will support the administration that is willing to address these issues with us as equals. Our faith and hope for a brighter future lies with Vice President Al Gore and the other candidates we are supporting. They have shown that they care and are willing to work hard on behalf of pueblo country."