Tribal members sound out
PORTLAND, Ore. - Tribal members in Columbia River Basin country are
watching the presidential race and like what they see. In the third formal
debate Sen. John Kerry's statesmanship was as evident as it was in the
previous two encounters with the current president. Kerry was informed,
articulate, incisive and poised. He demonstrated that he could be a
commander in chief who the citizens of the world's most powerful country
could be genuinely proud of.
Kerry's demeanor was not lost on educator and member of the Confederated
Tribes of the Yakama Nation, Patsy Whitefoot. "Sen. Kerry was so well
polished. There's no comparison at all in the quality of leadership,"
Whitefoot said. "I am a Kerry-Edwards supporter." Whitefoot has also been
tapped for the Democratic National Committee.
The 15th legislative district in Washington state, which includes the
Yakama Reservation where Whitefoot is a precinct committee officer, has
targeted Hispanics and American Indians. In the process, 4,000 new voters
have been registered for the November election. Tribal members in the
district are also sponsoring two free viewings of Michael Moore's
"Fahrenheit 9/11" for the community at the Yakama Nation Theatre.
Upstream within the Umatilla Reservation things are the same. "Obviously
John Kerry has the strongest campaign for Native America," said Donald
Sampson, member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian
Reservation and long time tribal leader. "George Bush can't even pronounce
sovereignty. So that's kind of where we're heading," Sampson said. "We have
about 1,000 new voters that will be prepared to help elect our new
Umatilla Board of Trustees member, Kat Brigham isn't as outspoken as
Sampson, but one gets the impression she'll be voting Democrat. Brigham
pointed out that when the tribe asked the political parties for information
on the candidates, the Republicans sent out a manila envelop containing 15
bumper stickers. Compare that to the Democrats that forwarded a large box
of information on the Kerry tribal platform, as well as an array of flyers,
posters, bumper stickers and campaign buttons. "The impression I got," said
Brigham, "was that the Republicans don't seem to want to work with us."
Clearly, though, the Democrats want to work with tribes.
Matthew Tomaskin, Yakama, precinct committee officer in the 15th
legislative district said, "We've already witnessed in the short time of
his candidacy how Kerry will be. This was evident both at the Democratic
Convention and when he went through Indian country. Kerry spent time in the
Navajo Nation and made a point to include the Tohono O'odham people at the
convention. To me those are powerful messages, and I too am a John-John
The third member of the precinct team from Yakama that spoke with Indian
County Today was tribal member and community activist, Marlene White, and
she underscored the significance of the current presidential race. "This is
probably one of the most important elections of my time," White said.
"I am a senior citizen, and I have to worry about retirement just like many
non-Native people," said White. "There's many of us for whom that's a grave
concern, but Mr. Bush doesn't seem to value saving Social Security."
White also pointed to the prison scandal that's being uncovered in Indian
county and how "people of color no matter who we are - we probably stand
the greatest risk of being treated like second-class citizens with the Bush
administration." White did not limit herself to the domestic sphere,
"In one of the debates, Mr. Bush said there's been no attempt to start the
draft, but how can you believe a man that lied already? Our children are
being sacrificed. All for him wanting the oil. Bush's priority is to obtain
or secure oil for this country, and that's why we got into this situation
with the war in Iraq. I encourage everyone to have 'Fahrenheit 9/11'
parties. Rent the video and have people over. It nothing else gets people
fired up, that film will."
While none of the Columbia River tribes are taking official positions on
the candidates, the chairman of the Umatilla tribe and senior statesman,
Antone Minthorn, put his voice on the line for John Kerry. "I think that
under Kerry, he's saying that he will reestablish relations with the
tribes, and we will have access to the White House. The tribes need that.
If Kerry's successful in becoming president the tribes will have an
opportunity to form an effective Indian policy. It's a big deal," Minthorn
said. "And that didn't happen under the Bush administration. I think that
there we've had what you call a regressive Indian policy and it happens
whenever the Republicans get control."
The younger member of the Umatilla tribe who serves on the Board of
Trustees, Armand Minthorn had a less patient tone to his voice than the
tribal chairman. In fact, Armand Minthorn sounded stern.
"I'm not pro-Kerry. Yet," Armand Minthorn said, "Neither candidate took
advantage of the National American Indian Museum opening and it was the
largest gathering of tribes ever. Still, when Bush talks about how the
tribes 'were given' sovereignty, it would be good to hear just what his
ideas on that are."
Sampson knows what Armand Minthorn is talking about. "I spoke to the
students in our community school about these issues. They're studying the
differences between the two presidential candidates right now, and the only
thing they could even find about Bush was his strange remark on
sovereignty. The kids were alarmed that the leader of the free world
couldn't explain a concept like sovereignty any better than Bush did."
Over in Nez Perce country where the Columbia River Basin scoops into Idaho
and gathers up Snake River water, Kerry supporter Rachel Edwards sounds out
as well. Member of the Nez Perce tribe and executive assistant to the
chairman, Edwards picks up Antone Minthorn's point on Republicans
generally. "Working in this position - we do have a lot of interaction with
local and county officials and state legislators. In Idaho we deal mostly
with a Republican majority, and we just always have problems. There's
always something going on that's a threat to our existence."
"Kerry has a platform on tribal health care that includes increased
funding. We need that because right now this country spends less per capita
on Indian health than it does on prisoners in federal penitentiaries,"
Sampson said. "Kerry wants to make the head of the Indian Health Service
into a Secretary of the Cabinet position. Elevate the IHS to that degree."
Whitefoot concurs that Kerry is the ticket to a better future for the
tribes, and she emphasizes the power of the tribes to make a Kerry win
happen. "Here on Yakama we've aligned ourselves with the Hispanic
community. It's people of color and women coming together. And our votes
matter. In Washington state we got rid of Slade Gorton by 2,226 votes and
it was tribal people who did that," Whitefoot said. "Now in this
presidential race, we have another chance. We can do better. We can get
John Kerry into the White House."