SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader rolled into Sacramento in late August, bringing his maverick campaign to the capital of the Golden State.
Several Green Party candidates were introduced to the public and spoke on a wide variety of issues including American Indian issues.
In a press conference at the California state capitol, Nader answered questions on several issues of importance to American Indians.
While he does not personally like gambling, he said he feels that American Indians have the right to do so.
"If anyone deserves the right to do gaming for economic survival, it is the Indian tribes that have been killed and plundered. To them gambling has been the sole source of income that has worked," he said.
Nader pointed out that his running mate is Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe tribal member who resides on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. He said she has been active in American Indian issues and was named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 most promising leaders under 40 years of age.
He feels that LaDuke's candidacy for vice president ensures that the Green Party will be responsive to American Indian issues.
Nader also said he hopes the richer tribes will share their wealth with poorer tribes. He singles out the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe from his home state of Connecticut as an example of a tribe that has done just that.
"As long as these tribes have provable tribal descent and have not become too diluted they deserve it," said Nader not noting the controversy surrounding the Pequots recently under fire for secrecy about genealogical records.
On the environmental front, Nader said he feels one of the biggest problems facing American Indians is the fact many tribal lands are being used as toxic-waste dumps. He said many unscrupulous tribal leaders take payoffs from corporations to allow this to happen.
"We have to be able to explore other environmentally friendly economic means, that will be able to pay off for the entire tribe, not just their leaders," Nader said.
In regard to specific Superfund sites to clean up many reservations, Nader said this is a tricky area and the issues go into areas too large for him to elaborate.
The Green Party has taken criticism for being overwhelmingly white. Nader answered some tough questions on the legitimacy of the Green Party to appeal to minority voters. Nader said he has been fighting for consumer advocacy for minorities and low-income people for more than 35 years.
He feels his work to prevent price gouging from major corporations of minority and low-income people gives him legitimacy to ask for their vote. He again cited LaDuke as an example of the Greens' minority outreach.
Nader lambasted the Democratic and Republican parties for keeping him out of national debates. He took after Democratic nominees Al Gore and Joe Lieberman as "corporate Democrats" who are puppets of multi-national conglomerates beholden to their money.
Though clearly critical of the Democratic ticket, Nader saved his harshest criticism for the Republican nominee George W. Bush.
"I am declaring the candidacy of George W. Bush illegal on the grounds that a corporation cannot disguise itself as a human being and run for president," said Nader.
Nader was not the only Green Party candidate in Sacramento. Medea Benjamin, a U.S. Senate candidate from California, addressed a small group of Green Party voters at a downtown coffee shop.
Benjamin also fielded questions about the Greens reputation as a party mainly of well-to-do whites. Benjamin said that this is unfair.
"The Greens are the party that is most adequately addressing minority concerns, we are working hard to get that message out," she said.
Benjamin recounted how she met with Latino voters in San Diego the day before and, once they understood that the Green Party was on their side, she said the response was "very favorable."
She said she feels a large part of the problem is the lack of funding to get the message out.
Questioned on American Indian issues, she cites the California Green Party's official stances in support of tribal sovereignty.
"We made sure to carry posters supporting Propositions 5 and 1A at rallies during the last two elections. It wasn't a controversial thing for the Greens," Benjamin said.
Not all Green Party candidates have been so steadfast in their support of American Indian gaming. Sacramento area Assembly candidate Jan Louis Bergeron admits to flip-flopping on the issue.
"I was misinformed by the advertisements opposing the Indian gaming propositions," Bergeron said. "I changed my mind after I had done some research on the subject which showed the clear benefits for the tribes." Bergeron said he still has much research to do on American Indian issues. He said feels tribal sovereignty and respect of treaty rights is "vital" to the future of California.