Obama’s support is widespread in Indian country

WASHINGTON – By the end of September, more than 100 tribal leaders had endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president.

The endorsers included Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., who represents the largest sovereign Indian nation in the country with approximately 300,000 members in southeastern Utah, northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico.

Shirley expressed the feelings of many tribal members’ frustration with the policies of the Bush administration and its courts, and their hopes for an improved future.

“For eight years, we have lived with federal policies that erode our culture and language and, therefore, attack our very identity as Native people. It is time for change: a real change! It is time for the United States of America to truly honor its obligations to its Native peoples.

“Sen. Obama understands the uniqueness of Native nations and Native peoples – that is why I support Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States.”

Obama expressed his thanks for the support.

“I am honored to have the support of President Shirley and so many of our tribal leaders. Their commitment to public service is something that every American should be proud of. Indian tribes in our country face a special set of challenges, from issues of sovereignty to access to affordable health care. I look forward to working with Joe and all of our tribal leaders to ensure that we meet these challenges in an Obama/Biden administration.”

Obama also was endorsed by at least seven tribal councils, including the Crow, Chippewa Cree and Fort Peck tribes, and the All Indian Pueblo Council. In mid-September, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association took the unprecedented step of endorsing a presidential candidate – Obama – in a unanimously endorsed resolution. The association represents 16 tribal nations in the Dakotas and Nebraska.

And in a well-publicized event earlier this year, he became an honorary member of the Crow Nation.

“We will never be able to undo the wrongs that were committed against Native Americans,” he said at the Crow ceremony in which he was adopted into the tribe, “but what we can do is to make sure we have a president who’s committed to doing what’s right with Native Americans being a full partner, representing you, honoring you, working with you.

“That’s the commitment I’m making to you; and since now I am a member of the family, you know I won’t break the commitment to my own brothers and my own sisters.”

From the very beginning of his campaign, he has kept a permanent place on his Web site for American Indians and developed a comprehensive detailed position paper on Indian issues.

“Perhaps more than anyone else, the Native American community faces huge challenges that have been ignored by Washington for too long. It is time to empower Native Americans in the development of the national policy agenda,” Obama said.

He has promised to enable tribal nation building, fulfilling treaty obligations and funding to Indian people and programs, and has uniquely promised to meet with tribal leaders annually and to install a senior-level staff person in the White House to deal specifically with Indian issues.

“We’ve got to make sure we are not just having a BIA that is dealing with the various Native American tribes; we’ve got to have the president of the United States meeting on a regular basis with the Native American leadership and ensuring relationships of dignity and respect,” Obama told a rally in Elko, Nev., last January.

Here are some of Obama’s positions on those issues:

Tribal sovereignty, the government-to-government relationship and the U.S. government trust responsibilities are expressly ecognized in the U.S. Constitution and are to be upheld, Obama says.

On health care issues, he has said the IHS estimates that it receives only 55 percent of the federal funding it requires.

“Federal per capita funding for Indian health care amounts to about half of the federal per capita health funding for federal prisoners. Indians are the most at-risk minority group for health problems like diabetes, which they suffer from at a rate 249 percent higher than the national average.

“Moreover, Indians have the nation’s highest death rates for tuberculosis and suicide. After Haiti, men on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota have the lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere.”

He voted to prove an additional $1 billion for IHS and was a co-sponsor of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act reauthorization, which crashed and burned in Congress at the end of September.

On religious freedom and cultural protection, Obama said he supports legal protections for cultural traditions and sacred sites, including burial grounds and churches.