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Kerry ticket courts Native vote at NMAI opening

WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry wasn't in
Washington for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on
Sept. 21, but he was on the minds of many Indians who rallied to the
Democratic Party during an eventful week.

A pro-Kerry reception on Sept. 21 brought together approximately 100
individuals from tribes all across America. They heard from several
speakers high in the Democratic pantheon on Indian affairs, including Sen.
Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., that a Kerry presidency
will respect sovereignty and resolve the impasse over trust funds
accounting. In addition, staffers from the Kerry campaign and the
Democratic National Committee encouraged everyone in attendance to "get out
the Indian vote" for Democratic candidates. A. Brian Wallace, chairman of
the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada, served as master of ceremonies
and earned a round of applause when he told people what to kick when they
got home.

On Sept. 23, the party reached still higher into the pantheon at a Native
American Forum on Capitol Hill, hosted by the Senate Democratic leadership.
Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the Senate Minority Leader, opened the session
with a rousing assessment of the ambience around the main event of the
museum's opening. "It's been a week of recognition, redemption and
reconciliation. All Americans got to see something this week of the
incredible beauty, diversity and pride of Native Americans. All Americans
got to learn something about how much we owe the First Americans for the
enormous contributions Native people have made to America - and the world."

Daschle is embroiled in a tightly-contested race for his Senate seat in a
state President George W. Bush is expected to have no trouble carrying. So
the business end of the forum was left to Hilary Clinton, the former First
Lady and currently a Senate Democrat from New York:

"You have had quite a week of festivities. Today, we are interested in
hearing your ideas about what we should be doing here in Congress. There is
no doubt that this [Bush] administration has had a devastating impact on
the Native Americans. The strain of our defense budget paired with the
massive tax cuts for corporations and those who need it least has severely
impacted the funds available for important domestic programs.

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"... Looking toward next year, we have a lot of work to do. But we need
your guidance in making sure that we are working on the issues that are
most important in Indian country. It is my sincere hope that you all will
view these discussions as the first meeting of a 'working group' that will
develop legislative recommendations for the 109th Congress. Over the next
few months, I hope you will continue to meet, or have conference calls, and
share draft recommendations.

"I commit to you that when I receive your recommendations, I will compile
them into a Native American Agenda and give a full report to each of my
Democratic colleagues in the Senate. This document will be enormously
helpful in guiding our work next year ..."

Also at the forum, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., addressed the trust
management reform process and Tex Hall, chairman of Three Affiliated Tribes
and president of the National Congress of American Indians, along with
Elsie Meeks of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the First Nations Oweesta
Corporation, spoke to voting rights.

Between these two bookend events, on the day of the museum's opening, the
Democratic National Committee announced an initiative to send Native
Americans into the so-called "battleground states" and turn out the votes
there. The states of Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Minnesota, Colorado,
Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Oregon are considered too close to
call in the presidential race; a small number of votes could decide the
issue in any one of them. Most of them have significant Native populations.

"This week we're going to organize the first Native American field training
sessions," said Terence McCauliffe, the DNC chairman. "... We've got to
make sure we're getting the votes ... make sure no one's vote is
disenfranchised." Another goal is for the trainees to train other Native
American Democratic leaders, McCauliffe said.

The two-day training produced 20 foot soldiers for the final six weeks of
the presidential campaign.