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Senator Johnson lauds support

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WASHINGTON - Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. remembers who his friends are and that some of those friends come from reservations.

And he remembers that they are the reason he still holds his seat in the U.S. Senate.

On Nov. 15, Johnson and his Senate colleague, the soon-to-be Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., called tribal leaders in the state and thanked them for their support.

"We wanted to thank all of Indian country for providing a victory in the last election," Daschle said.

He introduced Johnson to a gathering of journalists by phone as the real star who "made news all over the world."

"The whole world is talking about this election and about how the Native vote made the difference. There is a newfound Native voting power. I knew it would require an immense effort and the remarkable success was most dramatic.

"It demonstrates what can happen when you turn out the vote. The state will not be the same. Indian country will now get the respect not accorded in the past and it sets the stage for more positive voter power in the future," Daschle said.

"I can imagine political leaders now asking what can we do for Indian country," Johnson added.

The Democratic Party made an all-out effort to register American Indian voters this past election cycle. Even though it added nearly 10,000 new voters, Johnson said it could be higher.

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Voter turnout on the reservations was in the 50 percent range. Johnson said it could go to 60 percent in the next cycle.

Johnson assured American Indian voters that in spite of the change in control of the U.S. Senate, he would most likely retain his position on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and on the Appropriations committee, both important to the state and Indian country.

"A great deal needs to be done," he said. "In the areas of health care and trust reform and housing, I talked with tribal leaders in the state about these issues.

"This is a time of celebration of newly found power in South Dakota and we need to build on it. There is a newfound importance of the vote - I sense it. There is a newfound level of respect of issues and concerns that was not there before. People will now have to pay attention to the Indian voters," Johnson said.

Johnson and Daschle said tribes in other states are asking the Democrats how this campaign was orchestrated.

"The energy came from the people themselves," Johnson said. "This was the most ambitious get out the vote campaign, the most ambitious seen in South Dakota."

He added that communications with all tribal leaders and staff was important. He said his office would continue to stay in close touch and would be an advocate for all communities in South Dakota, American Indian and non-Indian.

Johnson said Congress faced issues of trust reform, health care and housing. He said he wanted to see the solutions coming from the tribes. He said he wanted to find a consensus on the issues and find a common ground.

"In regards to trust reform, it is our goals to have tribes tell Interior how to handle the situation to get comprehensive reform rather than a bureaucracy telling tribes what to do. Solutions have to be Native-American led," he said.

Neither senator supported a change in the way tribes received federal recognition.