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Tribes vote too

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General election day is also tribal election day for two of the largest First Nations and one tribe embroiled in New York State casino politics. Intense interest in the tribal races could further boost Indian voter turnout in what is already expected to be a landmark year for political participation.

One place to watch is the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota where memories of a troubled past have revived with the strong showing of veteran American Indian Movement leader Russell Means.

Several factors weight on voter turnout, including a much-hyped voter "scandal" which is being downplayed now by state officials and has subsided in the local press if not in the minds of national media. In addition, tribal voting sites are separate from the general election polls because they will also be serving food, which is not allowed in state polling places

The surprisingly strong primary showing of veteran activist and actor Russell Means has his supporters thinking he can carry the election, if it goes off as scheduled on Nov. 5. Supporters of incumbent President John Yellow Bird Steele seem equally confident that he will win in a walk. The perspectives seem to follow the fault-line of the 1973 Wounded Knee incident and its aftermath.

In the Navajo Nation, the ticket of Joe Shirley Jr. and running mate Frank Dayish Jr. is challenging incumbent President Kelsey Begaye and Vice President Taylor McKenzie. Dayish has drawn attention for his work as a governmental liaison officer for the coal-mining firm BHP-Billiton, since the Navajo Nation has taken a suit involving its Peabody Coal concession to the U. S. Supreme Court.

The Seneca Indian Nation election on its reservations in western New York State has become interwoven with the politics of gaming. As the Tribal Council rushes to implement its federally approved gaming compact with New York State, the main opponent of the pact, tribal Treasurer Arnold N. Cooper II, is not only suing to block it in Peacemaker Court, he is running for tribal president.

His main opponent, Tribal Councilor Rickey L. Armstrong Sr., is a strong supporter of the three-casino deal, as are eight of the 16-man Council who aren't up for election. Anti-casino candidates would have to sweep the open seats to get a tie situation. But the Seneca population itself is almost evenly divided on the merits of the compact, approving it in a referendum six months ago by only 1,077 to 976.