NCAI delegates rally with Phoenix Natives for Obama ’08

PHOENIX – Dozens of delegates from the National Congress of American Indians’ five-day convention took a break from meetings and joined scores of people at Sen. Barack Obama’s Arizona campaign headquarters to participate in a Natives for Obama ’08 rally Oct. 22.

More than 100 people gathered outside the headquarters building for an energetic hour and a half of speeches from tribal leaders, local and state politicians, and other dignitaries who expressed their support for Obama with both ardor and a sense of urgency.

Obama has garnered widespread support in the Southwest and universal support from the Navajo Nation in Arizona. The rally took place a day after the Navajo Nation Council passed a resolution endorsing the Illinois senator for president.

President Joe Shirley Jr., who attended the rally, endorsed Obama about a month earlier in his individual capacity as president. He is actively urging other nations to support Obama.

“So now we can say that as a nation we are supporting Sen. Obama; and as their leader I’m reaching out across space and time and what separates us to all Native American tribal leaders, all of the family members that are out there, to let’s get together and unify behind Sen. Obama and Sen. Joe Biden for the presidency and vice presidency of the great United States of America. ...

 Navajo Nation endorses Obama

The Navajo Nation Council passed a resolution Oct. 21, endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for president.

The endorsement came about a month after Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. individually endorsed Obama: “So now we can say that as a nation, we are supporting Sen. Obama,” he said.

The Navajo resolution also followed about a month after the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, threw their support behind the Illinois senator in an unprecedented endorsement. In both cases, tribal members said one of the reasons for the endorsement was that Obama visited their nations on several occasions while McCain rebuffed their invitations to meet with them.

The resolution was passed as an “emergency” measure at a council meeting at Window Rock.

“The Navajo Nation finds that the Navajo Nation’s timely endorsement and support of Sen. Barack Obama for president of the United States of America constitute an emergency matter and failure to express this endorsement from the governing body of the Navajo Nation prior to the Nov. 4, 2008, election day directly threatens the Navajo Nation’s exercise of Navajo Nation sovereignty.”

Among these threats, the resolution says, are an unemployment rate of close to 70 percent; a health care system in dire need of facilities and programs to treat diabetes, cancer, substance abuse, elderly care and teen suicide; and federal land use legislation that has prevented the nation from improving the living conditions and economic lives of its people.

The resolution further states that the nation has compared the experience, qualifications and political platforms of both candidates and, after meeting personally with Obama, concluded that he would best “lead our country into a new era of cooperation and progress for all Americans, including Navajos and Indians of all nations.”

Listed in the resolution are a number of actions for Obama to undertake “upon election,” which include, among other things:

• respecting and upholding the Navajo Treaty of 1868;

• supporting the allocation of water rights for the Navajo people;

• providing full and continued funding for the tribe’s economic development, job opportunities, housing and infrastructure;

• providing full funding for new detention facilities, law enforcement and tribal courts and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act;

• increased funding for the IHS; and

• full funding for contracts and grants established by law, including the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

With a population of 300,000, the Navajo Nation is the largest tribal government in North America.

“Native Americans haven’t been treated very well by the current administration. The country is upside down. It’s not doing very well because of the current administration. That’s got to change. [There’s] got to be change and we can help it along by unifying, by coming together, and getting out the vote here in Arizona.

He said he has been told the race will be close in the state.

“Native Americans have made a difference in a close race, so we can once again make a difference; and that’s why, as president of the Navajo Nation, I’m reaching across space and time to all my brothers and sisters to vote for change and vote for Barack Obama for the next president of the United States.”

Navajo Nation delegate Leonard Tsosie cited the environment as another reason to vote for Obama.

“Native America is hurting from a lack of jobs, but Mother Earth is hurting, too; and we had an administration for eight years that didn’t really care about it, and we’re beginning to see the results of eight years of that failed policy and I think that’s one of the many reasons why Native America is going for Barack.”

Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. made the claim to fame that his nation was the first to formally endorse Obama back in January.

Like many other tribal leaders, Norris expressed a visceral belief that Obama identifies and empathizes with Indian peoples. He said he has spoken to Obama a number of times and “felt the truth in his words. I’ve sensed his willingness to want to change and his willingness to help people and his commitment to do so. Most of all, what I feel from this candidate is the sincerity in his word. This man knows what it feels to be without, to be hungry.”

About a month earlier, Norris had the opportunity to ask Obama for permission to give him some political advice.

“He chuckled a bit and said, ‘Sure’; and I said, ‘The advice I offer you is that when you get to the White House, that you continue to talk from your heart, because that is how many people see you today. You’re a man of honesty. We need you in the White House, but we need you to continue to speak from your heart.”

San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Wendsler Nosie sang an Apache song of celebration that signified “a new beginning, a new day, a celebration of life and that’s what we’re doing here for Barack Obama.”

He also announced San Carlos’ endorsement of Obama.

“At one point, whether you were Republican or Democrat didn’t matter because, as an Indian tribe, we were run over. Now we have to look at candidates and what they stand for and their character; and for the first time, the Apache people, the last tribe in the state of Arizona to put down their arms, came out in support of a candidate in this election.”

Nosie, a tribal councilman since 2004 who was elected chairman in 2007, said his visits to Capitol Hill have been disappointing but he expects that to change under an Obama administration.

“With Obama, I really feel this government-to-government relationship will work because we’ll have someone in the White House who will address the great needs of the people. I’m certain that were going to have someone who will help the wound of America. There are so many issues he’s going to face from all the tribes from the east to the west, to the north and to the south, but when you meet people you can know when they’re true in the heart.”

Darrell Flyingman, governor of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, a retired marine and Vietnam Army veteran, said he took his time in deciding who to vote for. “I have a lot of respect for Mr. McCain, but it’s going to take more than a war hero to run this nation and I think Obama has pointed us in the right direction.”

Even though Oklahoma is a “red” state, he said, “I would say most of the tribes in Oklahoma do support Obama.”

With an apology to Alaska Native Mike Williams, Flyingman suggested that Alaskans need to keep Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s Republican vice presidential running mate, in Alaska.

But the remark held no offense for Williams, a tribal leader for 30 years and chairman of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, which represents 229 tribes.

Palin makes an appearance in a video McCain made for the NCAI convention. During her introduction for McCain, she talks at length about her meetings with the Alaska tribes.

But Williams said no meetings have taken place. “We have requested to meet with her to discuss our sovereignty, our children, our health care, our law enforcement issues and many other issues that affect us, but up to this date we have not received an answer.”

He said he believes Obama would respect such requests from Indian country.