Mobile vote campaign crossing the nation

SEATTLE - A motor home that carries the dedicated people from here across the country to conduct voter registration and voting workshops will cross the Great Plains en route to the East Coast.

Native Vote 2008 will travel through 24 states, visit more than 100 reservations, attend the two political party conventions and log on 10,000 miles before the national general election. The motor home will arrive in South Dakota July 26.

"We register people to vote, conduct day-long trainings and find Natives who haven't voted and find those who are registered and don't vote. We are also encouraging a strong absentee ballot voting," said Russell LaFountain, director of Native Vote 2008.

The five people in the 35-foot motor home will stop at strategic locations and pass out copies of treaties and pamphlets with a list of issues that affect Indian country. LaFountain said they group would stop at campaign headquarters of both Al Gore and George W. Bush and hand out parchment copies of treaties.

"This is a non-partisan effort. It is not for us to tell people how to vote. Our job is to get them out to vote. There are a lot of elections across the country won by 100 votes or less and the American Indian vote would count in those elections.

"We want to invite American Indians back into the political process. We will do voter education programs and let candidates know we are Indian and we do vote, and we can make a difference. Whoever is willing to work with the tribes and protect sovereignty will get the Indian vote.

"If they are willing to support the promises made to us and our ancestors, they will insure our vote. What we hope to do is let them know we are out there and vote as a Native block. Those who support us will get our vote," LaFountain said.

The largest tribal supporter so far is the Viejas in California. The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Michigan will sponsor workshop. The Mashantucket Pequots were the largest contributors in 1996 and LaFountain said he hoped they would again rise to the occasion with similar support.

LaFountain and his team ask a sponsor tribe to invite tribes with limited funding to attend the workshops.

Native Vote 2008 is named because the intent is to have 15,000 new voters each make sure one person is registered and gets to the polls in each of the next eight years. Mathematically that will calculate to 115,000 new voters in Indian country by 2008.

"We want to let the candidates know we are American Indian and that we are here. People can help by delivering treaties," LaFountain said.

"I try to get away from talking about specifics. I leave that up to the tribal leaders. Their foresights are different than mine.

"I'm speaking for Indians in general who learned what I was taught: to uphold the treaties. Some treaties are older than the country's constitution and bill of rights. If those documents are good enough to uphold, then so are the treaties," he said.