Like most Native Americans, I jumped at the chance to throw my support behind President Obama in his 2008 campaign. Four years later, although some of my friends complain that President Obama has been unable to lift the economy out from the crater he inherited, I've decided that I am sticking with Obama in 2012. Here are the three reasons why:
1) Obama has kept his promises to us.
The year he took office, President Obama gathered tribal leaders to a historic White House meeting. When he told us, “You will not be forgotten as long as I'm in this White House,” I knew that those of us who had backed Obama in the election had made the right choice. I told my friends that they could count on him.
It’s safe to say, he has proven me right. President Obama has signed two of the most important tribal bills in a generation. First, he signed the Tribal Law and Order Act which gives tribes more authority to put criminals away, provides training and assistance to fight domestic violence and sexual assault, and opens a new path for tribes to regain jurisdiction they lost under Public Law 280. Second, he signed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act which finally made the law permanent and improves medical care, expands Medicaid coverage, and delivers assisted living and long-term care for 2 million Native Americans.
Over the past four years, President Obama has directed an unprecedented $3 billion in direct funding and bond authority to Indian country in order to create jobs, build new schools, hospitals and clinics, repair roads, start new energy projects, and strengthen tribal law enforcement. When he took office, President Obama reversed the Bush Administration’s longstanding opposition to the claims of Native American trust account holders, farmers and ranchers and settled both the Cobell and Keepseagle class-action lawsuits as well as individual tribal trust funds cases. And under Obama’s leadership, the United States endorsed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the past four years have been some of the best that Indian country has ever experienced. His record alone is enough to convince me to say that we should stick with Obama for another term, but there’s more.
2) President Obama shares our values.
President Obama understands better than Governor Romney, who is a multimillionaire, where most of us come from. Obama understands that in Indian country, we still struggle with poverty, low life-expectancy, and dilapidated schools. He understands that many of us still have to drive dozens of miles for groceries, that our families live paycheck to paycheck, that we worry if we can afford to send our kids to college, and that we struggle everyday to put an end to intergenerational trauma.
Things are finally improving for us as a nation. While Romney’s agenda focuses on tax breaks for the rich, Obama’s agenda is focused on the middle class. But Obama has not forgotten the less fortunate and the people who believe that success is within reach for anyone who is willing to work hard for it. Obama has made the largest investments in history in Indian country’s education and health care. He has gone on the record and acknowledged the importance of our treaties and the power of self-determination.
President Obama understands the Indian trust relationship that the U.S. government has with tribal nations and Governor Romney is new to this game.
3) Indian country cannot afford to risk its future with Governor Romney.
Governor Romney says that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act on his first day in office. Not only would his actions jeopardize health care coverage for all Americans, it would also mean the end of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. And while President Obama supports reauthorizing a Violence Against Women Act bill that would allow Indian tribes to prosecute non-Indians who assault our Indian women, Governor Romney has said he will not support expanded protections for Indian women, LGBT persons, and immigrants.
As President, Romney would also have the power to appoint new conservative Supreme Court Justices. Indian country has already been battered by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. The future of our tribal sovereignty depends on who gets appointed to the Court. Only President Obama is going to appoint Supreme Court justices who understand and support Indian Country like Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to serve on the Court. She not only wrote the majority opinion in the Ramah Navajo case, holding that the U.S. government must honor its contracts with Indian tribes, but she also met with high school students from Albuquerque’s Native American Community Academy and Native American law students from the University of New Mexico.
Finally, Governor Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, has a budget proposal that would cut the Indian Health Service’s budget by $637 million and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ budget by $375 million. Indian country simply cannot afford budget cuts of these magnitudes. Cuts like these could devastate our tribal services to Indian families, elders, and our youth.
This is one of the most important elections in our lifetime. We now know how Governor Romney feels about the 47 percent of Americans whom he says are not responsible Americans. It makes me wonder what he really thinks about Indian country? I believe that Indian country has a clear choice. Indian Country is as strong today as it’s ever been. We can be proud of what President Obama has already accomplished. But the job is not done. I ask you to join me and vote for President Barack Obama.
Tex Hall is chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara Nation.