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The Nader/LaDuke factor

Few Native people paid much attention to the Green Party or its Nader/LaDuke ticket during most of the year leading up to the national election.

But, that was before the top presidential contenders split 105 million votes down the middle, with neither capturing the needed 270 electoral votes.

That was before a minuscule vote differential threw Florida into a recount and the country into a tizzy.

At this writing, two days after the election, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore are stalled at 49 percent each, separated by fewer than 2,000 votes of the nearly 6 million cast by Floridians. The remaining field of eight ?- representing small parties including the Reform, Libertarian, Natural Law and Socialists - did not pull in 150,000 votes all together.

Ralph Nader topped the also-rans in Florida, with nearly 97,000 or 2 percent of the total count. Reports from exit polling data indicate that most of the Nader voters who would have voted for someone else said they would have voted for Gore.

If true, the Nader vote represents the razor-thin margin of victory Gore so desperately needs. It is this tantalizing thought that makes Nader a prime object of resentment in the Gore camp.

Just weeks prior to the election, pollsters raised the specter of Nader as the Gore-vote spoiler. Dem loyalists were dispatched nationwide to chastise the Nader campaign for siphoning off potential Gore votes and to convince voters that a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush. GOP-friendly ads nudged voters in Nader's direction.

Former Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller wrote a vote-Gore/not-Nader letter in late October, saying that some may have the "luxury of voting for a presidential candidate who has no chance of winning the election," but "(w)e have too much at stake to vote for Nader and help catapult (Bush) into the White House." She did not mention Nader's running mate, Winona LaDuke.

Women?s rights advocate Gloria Steinem, who helped put both Mankiller and LaDuke on the political map through the Ms. Foundation, wrote:

"Nader asked (LaDuke), an important Native American leader, to support and run with him, despite his possible contribution to the victory of (Bush), a man who has stated that 'state law is supreme when it comes to Indians,' a breathtakingly dangerous position ... ."

Steinem stumped for Gore in Oregon, a Nader/LaDuke stronghold. Asked about the Nader spam, the longtime consumer rights champion said, "I'm the reason (Steinem's) getting her calls returned." Nader and LaDuke say they are party-builders, not spoilers, and that Gore is beating Gore.

Like Florida, Oregon is another too-close-to-call-state. Thus far, the Green candidates have pulled 5 percent of the vote total.

LaDuke is popular in Oregon, where she was raised in Ashland by her non-Native mother. She attended Harvard University with the help of Indian set-aside monies and hooked up with activist Jimmie Durham, who was later exposed as a pseudo-Indian by the International Indian Treaty Council he represented and by leaders of the Cherokee Wolf Clan he claimed.

LaDuke is also popular among Greens in New Mexico, where Gore barely squeaked by, with a margin of 1 percent, or just more than 5,000 votes, while Nader garnered 4 percent of the total, more than 18,000 votes.

It was in New Mexico that LaDuke's father, the late Sun Bear, developed a following of cult intensity and a lucrative sweat-lodge business. At one campaign rally on tribal territory, LaDuke attacked the reservation's top official for not being familiar with Green issues. The tribal leader, who was opening the event as a courtesy to a Native American candidate and without benefit of advance material, later said he had not been treated so disrespectfully by any other campaigner or Native person.

LaDuke kept a fairly low profile in the campaign after Greens in Washington circulated a petition to keep her off the ticket as their protest against Makah whaling. (Gore won the state vote, with 50 percent to Bush's 45 percent, and Nader came in at 4 percent.)

LaDuke focused her efforts in the Great Lakes area, especially near her White Earth Chippewa Reservation home in Minnesota (where Nader picked up 5 percent of the vote to Gore's 48 percent and Bush's 45 percent). Through a non-profit organization, LaDuke has been raising money for some 15 years to buy back former tribal lands. Local tribal people wonder aloud when she will begin to return any of the 1,200 acres she reportedly has acquired.

Before the election, an occasional non-Native reporter would leave messages, primarily for Native women, asking our opinions about LaDuke and her place/reputation/stature in Indian country. No one I know wanted to return the calls or speak ill of a sister, particularly one who could not be elected and would not make an impact. But, that was before Nov. 7.