PORTLAND, Ore. - If the name Pasty Whitefoot doesn't leap out at you from
the ranks of respected leaders in the Pacific Northwest the same way Billy
Frank Jr. does, it might be because women tend to be quieter about their
devotion to duty. John Kerry, however, recognized Whitefoot's political
acumen this past year and appointed her to a his Native American Steering
Committee along with 26 other American Indians of distinction, including
chairman of the Navajo Nation, Joe Shirley.
Longtime educator and member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the
Yakama Nation tribal council from 1997 - 2002, Whitefoot has also been
recognized by the Democratic party caucus in Washington state. Once the
popular vote is counted, she will serve as a presidential elector for the
state's fourth congressional district.
As Whitefoot puts it, "Once Washington voters demonstrate their support of
John Kerry, I'll be proud to help cast our state's Electoral College votes
in favor of his candidacy. I don't know of any other presidential candidate
who's had a real strong statement or policy on working with Indian country.
Maybe John F. Kennedy did, but I was too young to remember that."
"Senator Kerry is the one candidate that recognizes the importance of our
treaties, the sovereign status of tribes and the idea of
government-to-government relations between the tribes and the United
States," Whitefoot said. "I don't know of anyone else who has come out with
a statement like that. Kerry is the one who wants to help us. He has a
strong policy statement on working with tribes."
A Google search on John Kerry and American Indians is all it takes to prove
Whitefoot correct. Page after page of comment on Kerry's platform for the
tribes shows not only that the senator has a policy, but also that it's a
thoughtful, informed one.
Whitefoot respects the senator's position on security. "We have to work
together to make sure we will have a safe world and an environment where
our children and grandchildren will grow up in peace not only here in the
United States, but throughout the world," she said. "I also just noticed in
the paper that with the recession that this country has been going through
- it said that the minority people are the ones who have been hit the
hardest. I think that's something we need to pay attention to, and
something John Kerry has already shown he wants to address."
Kerry's economic plan for Indian America goes way beyond business startups
right across the board. He's across the board with his facts and his
platform. Fifty-seven percent of fourth grade American Indian and Alaskan
Native students were reading below basic achievement levels in 2000. Kerry
wants to improve that by incorporating culturally-relevant curriculums that
instead of alienating children, make them feel like they have a rightful
place both within their tribe and the nation.
"Health care is another issue," Whitefoot said. "We already have problems
on the reservations and in urban areas and now there's not enough flu
vaccine. It's pretty frightening. Devastating, even. Especially for Indians
that know their history and remember how epidemic disease destroyed our
populations during the period of initial contact with Europeans."
Kerry also promotes protecting natural resources vital to tribal
subsistence, ceremonial and commercial cultures. In that regard he is
squarely within the camp of 47 Nobel laureates who, like Patsy Whitefoot,
put their endorsement of Kerry in writing. As quoted in The New York Times,
these elite scholars said "Unlike previous administrations, Republican and
Democratic alike, the Bush administration has ignored unbiased scientific
advice in the policy making that is so important to our collective
In addition to respecting the advice of our most brilliant scientists,
Kerry wants to redress the imbalance in infrastructure expenditures on and
off reservations. According to the Kerry platform, the idea that states
spend $2,500 to $4,000 per mile for road maintenance while the federal
government can find only $500 per mile for roads in Indian country says
And that's been Patsy Whitefoot's position all along. "In the third debate
when I heard John Kerry's words about faith and the beliefs of Native
Americans, a chill ran over me and tears came to my eyes." Whitefoot paused
as if trying to collect herself and rise to the occasion, above all the
pain of the past to a hopeful new future. "I sent a transcript of that part
of his remarks to everyone I know. Especially my old college friends from
Ft. Lewis College in Durango. They are all over the United States now in
leadership positions in their tribes - people like the former president of
the Zuni tribe and the former chairman of the Navajo Nation.
"Thank you, Senator Kerry, for that acknowledgement," said Whitefoot. "I
was just honored that he would say that to the world," she said. "And the
world was listening, just like they were present when I attended the
Democratic convention, and reporters from Germany and Japan and Norway
interviewed me and I assured them that, yes, American Indians are still