OKLAHOMA CITY – The Indigenous Democratic Network – also known as INDN’s List – recently celebrated its first anniversary in Washington, D.C., with more than 100 people in attendance. The organization’s founder, Kalyn Free, Choctaw, told Indian Country Today that the guest list of supporters included elected tribal officials and labor union leaders, as well as Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, D-Vt., and DNC Vice Chairman and Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.
Of all the accomplishments that INDN’s List made in its first year of existence, the greatest accomplishment, said Free, is the inaugural “Campaign Camp,” which was held on the weekend of Oct. 13, 2005, in Minneapolis. At the camp, potential American Indian candidates learned the exact details of how to run a professional campaign not only from Free, Dean and Honda, but also from Reps. Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D.; James Oberstar, D-Minn.; and “Air America” radio personality and author Al Franken.
One potential candidate who attended the seminar was Scott Bighorse, Osage, who is running as the only declared Democratic candidate for the Oklahoma Legislature’s House District 36, which encompasses a large portion of Osage County. Bighorse said that he is grateful for the opportunity that Free gave him to attend the Campaign Camp, and is optimistic about INDN’s List’s future.
“If Kalyn Free can get one person elected out of however many she’s backing and supporting,” he said, “I think it can only spin off from there.”
Now that its first birthday has passed, Free said she has two main goals for INDN’s List depending on the amount of funds raised. The first is the ability to make independent expenditures into the races of American Indian Democratic candidates. This would be done through IRS Section 527, which allows INDN’s List to receive unlimited amounts of monetary donations and then disperse set amounts of money to various campaigns as a separate, independent entity.
“We would love to go in and drop $25,000 or whatever into a direct mail piece, or into live phones, or into knocking on doors, turning out the vote ... That would be something that we would do separate and apart from the campaign,” said Free. “There can’t be any coordination between INDN’s List and those candidates. That’s the type of influence that we want to be able to wield.”
The second upcoming goal for INDN’s List is the expansion of its full-time staff, which at press time consisted of Free, Political Director Dave Parker, Finance Director Lindsay Earls and Intern Micah Kordsmeier, all wearing various hats and working out of a suite in downtown Tulsa. This is in addition to the various volunteer directors that work on the state level throughout Indian country.
“We have the capacity to grow,” said Free. “We have run a very lean operation. In order for this organization to truly grow and to truly reach our potential, we need to have a development director and have a full-time fund-raising staff, so that we can put as much money behind our candidates as possible, so that they can win races.”
Ultimately, it is the idea behind INDN’s List – of Native people seeking their own representation – which will serve as the catalyst for INDN’s List’s growth into the overall American consciousness.
“Indian country has for too long been viewed as a source of campaign cash for non-Indian candidates and a swing vote in certain states in certain elections,” said Free. “We’re much more than that. We deserve to be on the ballot. We want representation ourselves, and we want that representation to be from our own people.”
Honda’s sentiments about the need for Native representation mirror Free’s. According to Honda, INDN’s List is a step in the right direction.
“Quite frankly, it’s kind of a sad commentary in our country that the First Americans are the ones that are least heard in a lot of our deliberations,” said Honda. “INDN’s List is, I think, a critical move to make sure that [Native] presence, voice and influence are brought to this country.”