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Making history - Election coverage in Montana

Montana Natives coordinate to back Obama

Tom Daschle tells Natives, ‘You have the power!’

Billings, Mont. – On a breezy and crisp October afternoon in Billings, Mont., First Americans for Obama volunteers served chili and frybread on the local courthouse lawn.

The Nov. 3 feed was part of an effort to get the attention of and register urban Indian voters. Although the effort spurned a modest 35 estimated voters, it was part of a coordinated effort to make sure that all American Indians voters throughout Montana were not taken for granted, said Obama volunteer Janice Little Light, Crow.

In Poplar, Mont., Obama supporters coordinated a traditional non-contest powwow to encourage voter registration on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Tribal members came together, brought food and had fun enjoying the dance and backing Obama, Sioux volunteer Vermae Taylor said.

The “Dance for Change” slogan and name for the pow wow event came out of a popular slogan used nationally for conventions.

Photo courtesy Robert Stone In Poplar, Mont., Obama supporters coordinated a traditional non-contest powwow to encourage voter registration on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

In one day, Taylor and other volunteers caravanned across the Assiniboine and Sioux Reservation and visited more than 100 houses to check if people were registered to vote or needed rides to the polls.

“I’d say 100 percent of the people I spoke to were Obama supporters,” Taylor said. “I have a feeling that in every one of the seven reservations in Montana people are just as excited.”

And while some volunteers, like Taylor, work full-time jobs they don’t seem to mind the extra hours, drawing on support from one another while volunteer their nights and free time to campaign for Obama.

Through the dedication that they’ve given to help get Obama elected, the community has bonded even more.

“We’re doing grunt work for Obama, but we don’t mind it,” Taylor said of the volunteers. “It’s like a whole new different family.”

In the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, councilwoman Carole Lankford said even Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) went on a ride with them to help register a whole new crop of Native voters.

When Vice-president candidate Sen. Joe Biden came to the nearby town of Kalispell, Mont. to campaign, Lankford said she was grateful that he gave local Salish and Kootenai and Blackfeet tribal leaders individual time to be heard.

Although people have predominately said they would vote for Obama in the Flathead area, the tribe is just happy as a whole to see a lot of young people excited to vote. Hillary Clinton visited this same area in the primary elections.

“Young Indian people, for once, are really excited and motivated, and that’s what excites and motivates me,” Lankford said about her commitment to get more American Indians voting.

Former U.S. Senator and Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, of South Dakota, called and personally thanked Lankford and other pro-Obama Montana American Indian volunteers for their efforts, making her and other volunteers feel even more appreciated.

Daschle was also a guest speaker at the Crow Reservation on Monday during a pro-Obama rally, where Obama gave a speech to a crowd of thousands in May.
Donald “Del” Laverdure, the Chief Legal Counsel of the tribe, said the Crow endorsed Obama early in the campaign.

“We endorsed him when it wasn’t easy to endorse a candidate who was in the middle of a big (primary) battle,” he said.

“We’re not just voting for any president, but voting for a member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) Nation,” said the Vice-secretary of the Crow Tribe, Darrin Old Coyote, in reference to Obama’s adoption into the tribe.

Crow Tribal Chairman, Carl Venne, reminded the crowd of how the American Indian vote had usually been neglected, but in Montana American Indian voters helped turn the power of the U.S. Senate over to Democratic control, as they predominately voted for Jon Tester.

“I can assure you it was the Indian vote that got (Sen. Tester) in there,” Venne said.

During his speech, Daschle highlighted the differences and needs of American Indians in Montana and South Dakota as compared to Indians on either coastline, who receive a lot of dividends from casinos.

“We don’t have the kind of people and numbers for people to come to our gaming facilities like we have on the east and west coast,” Daschle said.

Gaming and casinos are already legal all throughout Montana, so there isn’t much stimulus for people to go out of their way to the rural reservations to gamble.

“But I tell you what, we will see energy opportunities in this part of the world that can exceed the impact of gaming in this country,” he said.

Daschle spoke about the energy potential and development for tribes in the area which included wind, solar and to coal-to-liquid plants. The Crow tribe recently announced a $7 billion deal to convert coal into liquid fuels with an Australian company.

Daschle also acknowledged that he relied heavily on the Indian vote to win elections in his home state of South Dakota.

“There was a time when people said the Indian vote didn’t count. There was a time when it didn’t really matter how many times you came to rural Montana or rural South Dakota. It was rare a political person would come to a reservation. But I can tell you this: you all have put Indian country on the map, and there aren’t many of you. You have the power!”

Tom Daschle gets the Crow Nation ‘Fired up and ready to go’

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CROW AGENCY, Mont. – After intense and controversial local elections on the Crow Reservation Nov. 1, the Sen. Barack Obama rally Nov. 2 was a welcomed break from tribal politics. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was the special guest speaker.

The event served as a chance for all of the Crow tribe to unite behind Obama, who was adopted into their tribe earlier this year – in his only visit to a reservation.

I arrived just in time to the multi-purpose center in Crow Agency, Mont. to hear the opening prayers of the rally being worded in the Crow language. And indeed it was a distinctly Crow affair, with most of the speakers speaking first in their native Crow language before making comments in English. Crow is still spoken fluently by a large percentage of the tribe (an estimated 85-90 percent of those who live on the reservation among people over 30).

Photo by Adrian Jawort Former U.S. Senator and Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, of South Dakota addresses a crowd of some 500 plus people on the Crow Reservation in Mont. at a pro-Obama rally on Monday.

According to Daschle, when Obama found out that he was going to Montana to campaign and a stop would include Crow Agency, Obama told him, “’You tell my family I said hello!’” The crowd loved it.

Obama went to Montana - a strongly traditional ‘red’ state in the Presidential elections - four times this year in the hopes of making it turn ‘blue’ this election. Although Sen. John McCain has presumably taken the state for granted and assumed it would continue to vote Republican especially after selecting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, Obama shrewdly saw in Montana a potential for ‘turning blue’ as the state currently has two senators and a governor that are Democrats.

American Indians make up some 6.4 percent of the state population. With most of them overwhelmingly supporting Obama this year, that 6.4 percent could pay huge dividends in helping Barack pull off an upset in Montana.

Meeting up with Obama’s adoptive Indian mother

CROW AGENCY, Mont. – During the heated primary elections between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Obama, I talked with a young Crow man who was the director of the Native American Outreach in Montana named Samuel Kohn. He and other pro-Obama volunteers were instrumental in helping Obama handily win the state of Montana.

At his speech on the Crow Reservation prior to the primary vote, Obama himself singled out Kohn to praise him for all of his efforts that weren’t unheeded as proven by the election results.

A speaker at the Crow rally also said if anyone had any questions about Obama, Kohn was present they should ask him. I had to meet Kohn in person as I had previously only spoken to him by phone. The young Dartmouth student no longer held his Native American Outreach Director position, but that suits him as he’s busy with school at Dartmouth studying tribal policy.

Photo by Adrian Jawort Mary Black Eagle is Barack Obama's adoptive mother. Obama said that she'll be at the White House after he's elected President.

Kohn was courteous enough to take me to talk to a person of interest, Mary Black Eagle, Barack Obama’s adopted Crow mother. Her husband (Obama’s adopted father) is named Hartford “Sonny” Black Eagle.

“When I adopted him I asked him to remember me when he made it to the White House,” Mary Black Eagle remembers telling Obama back in May. “He said, ‘Mom, you’re going to be there with me too.’ I’m really looking forward to going to the White House.”

At his primary speech in Crow Agency, Mont., Obama was given a Crow name that translated means, “One who helps people throughout the land.”

When Obama last came to Butte, Montana on the Fourth of July, Black Eagle got to talk to him again. Black Eagle says that the Tribal Administration is making plans for her and others to go to Washington D.C