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Whither the Native vote in non-Native elections?

And so it ratchets up. The recently concluded national election cycle
confirmed what I and others have long realized: A majority of the American
electorate is deeply conservative and on multiple levels, religious,
social, economic and cultural.

It is a conservatism suffused by the attitudes and behaviors of evangelical
Christians where, as Nicholas Kristof wrote, the four "G's" - God, Guns,
Gays and Grizzlies - powerfully serve as the clouded lens through which
Bush, Cheney and company and now some 51 percent of those who voted rabidly
support Bush's crabbed and paranoid view of American culture and the world
itself.

Kristof, in all fairness, should have added another "G," Gas, since that
single product and its mother source, oil, is yet another pivotal reason
the U.S. is in the fix it currently finds itself in with Iraq and the
Middle East.

Vine Deloria Jr., writing in "We Talk, You Listen", nearly a quarter
century ago, astutely captured the essence of American conservatism and the
attitude of the typical voter when he observed that "we have seen in
practice that each person makes decisions according to his own good and
hopes that somehow society will arrive at a wise and just decision in its
deliberations. Unless a political movement is triggered by a charismatic
political leader, society generally limps along postponing fundamental
decisions because a majority of people want small adjustments and not major
changes in their lives."

Since American conservatism and the five "G's" are in full bloom and
majority control of the White House, the Congress, the Supreme Court and
most state governments, what might this portend for Native nations and our
traditions, tribal sovereignty, treaties, trust status and territories, or
the five "T's," if you will?

This is a critical question given the dramatically increased level of
political participation exhibited by a sizeable percentage of First Nations
governments, Indian interest group organizations, and, of course,
individual Indians across the country, the majority (though an outspoken
minority group of Republican Indians also surfaced) of whom supported John
Kerry and a number of other losing democrats.

If we learned nothing else about Bush in his first term, it is that he
never forgets a real or perceived snub and will go to extraordinary lengths
to punish or embarrass those he considers disloyal to him and his
faith-based and corporate beholden administration.

No seer am I, but if history is any guide, we are in for a continued and
most likely escalated stretch in which so-called states' rights are
interpreted to trump Indigenous rights; in which our limited natural
resource endowments (oil, gas, timber, water, fish and wildlife) come under
unencumbered assaults by federal, state, corporate and private forces; and
in which our extra-constitutional status as generally tax-exempt sovereign
nations is viewed as an outmoded aberration that must be brought in line
and treated like any other taxable interest organization.

Clearly, Indian prognosticators overestimated the impact the Native vote
would have in several of the battleground states for both the presidency
and key Senate races, especially those of Tom Daschle of South Dakota and
Brad Carson of Oklahoma.

For those Natives who supported Kerry/Edwards and other democratic
candidates, this election will prompt deep soul searching. For those
boisterous Indian Republicans, it has instilled a sense of real
empowerment.

But for those non-voting Natives whose primary allegiance remains to their
own tribal nations and who get electorally involved only in their own
nation's political processes out of respect for their national sovereignty
and the sovereignty of the other polities, this election will serve as a
timely and troubling reminder that our predecessors were, I think, right to
maintain a measurable political and legal distance from local, state and
federal elections.

An over involvement in non-Indian elections, especially those spiked with
degrading campaign ads, character assassination, etc., could well lead to
the diminution of the distinct legal and political rights enjoyed by First
Nations and their citizens by the very political parties - Democrats and
Republicans - those Indian voters either supported or advocated against.

Bush seems hell bent on imposing a Christian faith-based set of programs
and policies in the U.S. and other corners of the globe. And given that 51
percent of the American public wholeheartedly endorses his crusade for what
appears, to this writer, to be a push for a theocratic state, tribal
nations and their peoples should recall that earlier in U.S. history, such
Christian-inspired dogma, missionaries, and religiously motivated white
settlers wrought gross violations of Indian spiritual practices and
traditions, led to the dispossession of millions of acres of tribal lands
and the denunciation, deposing and killing of many Indian religious
leaders.

I want to believe that the next wave of attacks on our resources, rights
and reservations will not be nearly as crass or overt this time around, but
subtler violations are violations nonetheless. First Nations, gird your
loins!

David E. Wilkins, Lumbee, is a professor of American Indian Studies at the
University of Minnesota.