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What's at stake for Indian country

Author:

On Nov. 2, Americans will have choice about which path this nation will
follow. American Indians, in particular, have a momentous opportunity to
demonstrate their electoral power in deciding who the next president of the
United States will be. With so many important issues at stake, this is
truly the most important election of our lifetime and the difference
between myself and George Bush could not be more clear.

American Indians are an important part of the fabric of our country. From
the cultures of the more than 560 federally-recognized tribes with their
rich languages and beautiful artwork to the economic development and
businesses that create jobs in Indian country and beyond, American Indians'
contributions to our country are immeasurable. As a veteran, I want to pay
tribute to the bravery of American Indians who serve in the Armed Forces in
greater percentage than any other group in our society. From the Code
Talkers in World War II to Private Lori Ann Piestewa, who was killed
serving her country in Iraq, American Indians have a long record of service
that we all must honor.

Unfortunately, we have a president who has not honored our first peoples.
At every turn, George Bush has given the hardest working Americans a raw
deal. He has chosen tax cuts for the wealthy and favors for special
interests over the needs of working Americans. George Bush also has tried
to limit the voices of many segments of our society, including American
Indians. How can we have a leader who can fight for American Indians if he
does not have a firm grasp of the basic principle of tribal sovereignty?

I am the only candidate with a comprehensive agenda for American Indians.
If elected president of the United States, I will promote tribal
sovereignty, and I will work with you to create an unprecedented
partnership with tribal governments to improve the lives of American
Indians all over America. In addition, I will increase funding for the
Indian Health Service and will help stimulate economic development and
increase loans to Native-owned businesses from the Small Business
Administration.

We also must re-open the doors of the White House to American Indians. As
president, I will work to appoint American Indians to key positions in the
White House and throughout my administration. I also will work to appoint
American Indian judges to the federal judiciary.

And we cannot forget the next generation. In 2000, 57 percent of fourth
grade American Indian and Alaska Native children were reading below basic
achievement levels. Education is the cornerstone of creating opportunity
and I will work to improve the quality and access to education for American
Indian children. We must work to improve the reading levels of this
country's Native children, including incorporating culturally relevant
curriculum.

I believe that America cannot neglect its first peoples. We have come so
far and worked so hard to begin healing the wounds of a bitter past, and to
build a brighter tomorrow for future generations. By honoring its legal and
moral obligations to American Indians, this nation honors the core values
for which it stands. We must never forget what has happened in the past,
but this does not mean that we cannot come together to build a brighter
future.

Indian communities are doing their part. They are working hard to effect
positive change, strengthen their institutions, improve their schools, and,
as in previous times of conflict, they are sending their best and brightest
young men and women, to fight and, sadly, sometimes die for our country.
Tribal communities deserve better treatment than they have been accorded by
the Bush administration.

Today, I am asking each and every one of you for your support and your vote
on Nov. 2. I recognize that every American Indian must exercise his or her
right to vote so that together we can protect tribal sovereignty, ensure
adequate health care, provide education, and promote economic development.

Together we can improve the lives of American Indians across this country,
and we can send a message to Washington that American Indians across this
land are uniting to fight for the next generations of American Indians and
Alaska Natives.

Senator John Kerry is the Democratic nominee for president of the United
States.