As a Native woman, it is tough not to feel distrustful of and cynical toward most politicians. But on the crest of this election season, unlike any prior, I feel buoyed. I feel energized, engaged and excited. I feel something new: hope.
Yes, it’s a buzzword nowadays. “Hope” has become synonymous with a candidate and emblematic of movement. The cynic in me wishes to dismiss it as superficially attractive yet ultimately insubstantial, but decades of experience in politics and public service won’t allow me to do that. I haven’t felt this hopeful in years.
It started in the primary. As Native people, we didn’t have just a single good candidate; we had several great ones from which to choose. It was a profound struggle choosing a candidate to endorse, but one I welcomed. What a wonderful surprise to have too many candidates listening to us and responding to our issues.
Now, as the campaign has narrowed to a general election, my hope for the future of this country and its policies toward tribal governments and individuals only grows. I know we have an advocate in Sen. Barack Obama, who unveiled his First Americans platform while the campaign was still in its infancy and has since been meeting with tribal leaders around the country. He is humble enough to respectfully listen, and empathetic enough to fully understand the challenges facing our communities today. I believe Sen. Obama when he says he feels “a particular sense of outrage when I see the status of so many Native Americans, and there is a sense of kinship in terms of the struggles that have to be fought.” The other candidates simply cannot speak from the same place.
But he does more than talk the talk. Since entering the U.S. Senate, Obama supported the Indian Health Care Reauthorization Act and pushed for a billion-dollar increase in IHS funding. As a presidential candidate, he took that commitment to Indian health care further and called for full funding of IHS. In addition, one of Obama’s first initiatives as a candidate was to plan for a National Indian Policy Adviser as a senior staff member in the White House.
I’m inspired that this country chose him as a presidential candidate and I’m eager to be a part of history when we elect him in November. And make no mistake; we will be the ones electing him in November. Native people have an unprecedented degree of electoral power this season. We are a voting bloc that must be courted. Native populations are the most geographically dense in states likely to be up for grabs this election, meaning 1 – 2 percent of the vote in swing states could be the difference between an Obama victory on the one hand and four more years of Indian-hostile policies on the other. We can make that difference, but only if we vote.
Sen. Obama is a lifelong public servant who has shown sage judgment and sound politics. I trust him to nominate judges to the Supreme Court who will respect the inherent rights of tribal governments and the basic human rights of all people. I am impressed by the fact that he seeks and heeds wise counsel and solid policy advice on the issues I care most about – tribal sovereignty, foreign policy and health care.
Wilma Mankiller is the former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.