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Living history

WASHINGTON – History has been made. Sen. Barack Obama won an overwhelming victory over Sen. John McCain to become the 44th President of the United States. He is the first African American ever elected as the leader of the free world.

In his victory speech, President-elect Obama, 47, mentioned Native Americans as being an important part of the commanding coalition of voters who turned out to support him.

“Change has come to America,” Obama said to a jubilant crowd of tens of thousands who gathered in Grant Park, Chicago after his triumph was confirmed.

“I will never forget who this historic victory belongs to. It belongs to you.”

Of states with large numbers of Natives, Obama prevailed in Michigan, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, Hawaii and others. He won key electoral college states, including Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado. And he easily carried New York and California — two states with many tribes with vast interests.

Detailed analysis of how many Indian voters turned out to help the senator from Illinois win in states with substantial numbers of Native Americans is forthcoming.

Tribal leaders have been generally pleased with Obama’s pledges on Indian issues, including his ideas for strengthening health care, improving economic opportunities, and creating a top level White House position focused exclusively on Native affairs. Many also positively noted his repeated desire to listen to their specific needs.

Obama received much support from Indian country throughout the election. According to research gathered by the campaign, more than 100 tribal leaders, tribal organizations and tribes ended up endorsing Obama and his running mate Sen. Joe Biden.

In May, the Crow Nation adopted him as a member of its tribe, and honored him with the name “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”

In June, the Obama campaign thanked Indian country for its support during his drawn out primary battle with Sen. Hillary Clinton. He defeated Clinton in states with large numbers of Indian voters, including Montana and South Dakota.

On Oct. 22, the Navajo Nation, the largest federally recognized tribe with more than 250,000 members, announced that it, too, was endorsing the Obama/Biden ticket.

At least three prominent Native American papers, including Indian Country Today, Native American Times and the Tanasi Journal endorsed Obama.

Throughout Obama’s campaign against McCain, many Natives said they wished that the senator from Arizona would have done a better job at reaching out to tribes.

Obama’s on-the-ground organization in heavily populated Native areas was perceived as much stronger than that of McCain — a surprise for some Natives, especially considering McCain’s past widely-respected service on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Some Indians also expressed strong distaste for the policies of Gov. Sarah Palin on fishing and hunting sustenance, environmental, and language assistance issues. Palin’s Yup’ik husband, Todd Palin, was seen as having little influence on the overall Indian vote.

In his concession speech, McCain said he will do “all in my power” to help Obama transition into his new role.