ANDARKO, Okla. – INDN’s List founder and Choctaw Nation member Kalyn Free spent election night Nov. 7 in Vinita, at the watch party of Oklahoma State House District 6 candidate and Cherokee Nation member Chuck Hoskin. She observed Hoskin and his wife, Stephanie, receive the results of their work throughout the evening in between her receiving cell phone calls from throughout the country, where she learned of election results for many of her other Democratic Indian candidates.
By 3 a.m. Nov. 8, she learned that 16 of her 22 endorsed candidates won their elections. Although feeling sad for her candidates who did not win, she said she was pleased with the results of INDN’s List’s first election cycle.
“I was thrilled beyond belief,” Free said. “We worked so hard at INDN’s List to support these candidates.”
Members of INDN’s List, otherwise known as the Indigenous Democratic Network, “are dedicated to electing Native American men and women to office across America,” according to the list’s Web site, indnslist.org. “We believe in the power of Indians as candidates, as contributors, as campaign professionals, and as voters to bring about great change in our country.”
“Our candidates have worked really hard,” Free said about the success of the INDN’s List candidates. “They’ve had to. We always say that Indian people have to work double-hard than other folks about whatever they set out to do. In campaigns, they have to work harder than the average non-Indian candidate. Our candidates were the key to their own successes.”
Since INDN’s List sponsored its first campaign camp in October 2005, she has seen these candidates who attended – such as Claudia Kauffman of Washington, and Hoskin and Scott BigHorse of Oklahoma – run successful campaigns.
“The skills they learned at campaign camp they employed immediately, running professional, strategic campaigns,” Free said. “I’m not going to take all the credit. They ran professional, well-targeted field campaigns. That’s the difference between success and failure.”
Now that INDN’s List’s first election cycle is completed, the organization is setting new goals for 2008. The first, Free said, is to gain more Indian candidates to run for public office.
“We want to build on our successes,” she said. “We want to have even more candidates running across the country. Out of 22 candidates that we endorsed this cycle, that represents 16 different tribes. We want to have a broader representation. We want to be more active in more states, have more tribes represented and have more candidates running.”
Its second goal is to sponsor a second campaign camp in August 2007, with a location as yet to be determined, but Free said that it would definitely be within Indian country and that different reservations are interested in hosting the event. This campaign camp would feature both a candidate and a staff training track, with candidates learning such skills as on-the-spot stump speechmaking and simulated fund-raising. But one of the features that INDN’s List is planning includes “Prez on the Rez,” which would bring in the 2008 candidates for president to meet with elected tribal leaders and discuss issues affecting Indian country such as education, health care, the environment and the methamphetamine epidemic. The presidential candidates would then be part of a forum with a selected moderator.
The third goal of INDN’s List, according to Free, is to have paid campaign workers who are Indian and working over a year ahead of time to get out the Native vote for Native Democratic candidates.
“We want to hire Indian people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico – in the battleground states,” Free said. “I want to put Indians from those reservations – not on the ground 30 days before the general election, but a year before. I would love to have people on the ground next fall, a year before the 2008 elections, working, registering voters and doing Native vote – paid staffers. ... You cannot run an effective program, whether you’re running for state office, county office or for president, on a volunteer basis. We want to hire Indians to do that.”
Ultimately, Free said the goal of INDN’s List is one of inspiration to Native people in that they can be represented within the greater American political landscape, and that Native people run their own campaigns.
“We want Indian country to be a real player in 2008 with candidates, with field staff,” she said. “We don’t want non-Indians coming in from various campaigns and from the [Democratic] Party telling us how to run field programs in Indian country. We know how to do it and we want our own people doing it. We want to pay them to do it. We know people obviously need the money and need the jobs, but they also need the experience. That will inspire them, hopefully, to run for office in two years or 10 years.”
Recently, Free said that a sixth-grade teacher from Isleta Pueblo, N.M., wrote to her, asking that her Native candidates write her students. Free was excited about the ideas this would generate with these young Native children.
“This may plant the seed in the heart of some Isleta kid,” Free said. “They’re going to look at this and go, ‘Oh my goodness. There’s Indians all over the country running and winning.’ It’s something they’ve never considered before. That’s the real goal of INDN’s List – to inspire and empower our own people. I think that’s what this election cycle has done, hopefully.”