Will Indian Country be Excited by President Obama’s Reelection Campaign in 2012?

Mark Trahant

Canada just finished its national elections and the governing Conservative Party expanded its majority in parliament. Last week Prime Minister Stephen Harper also announced the historic appointment of two Native Canadians to that country’s cabinet. (Vancouver Sun: "Two Aboriginal MPs Picked for Cabinet for the First Time")

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said it was the first time the cabinet would include both an Inuit member and a First Nations member, returning Health Minister Leona Aqlukkaq and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue. (Assembly of First Nations: "National Chief Congratulates New Cabinet - Calls for Focused Action to Advance First Nation Priorities with 41st Parliament")

This Canadian record-breaker is worth thinking about in the United States. There is a deep pool of Native American talent already working at federal agencies such as Bureau of Indian Affairs or the Indian Health Service, so it’s time to see the promotion of an American Indian or Alaska Native to the post of Surgeon General, as a member of the Federal Communications Commission, or better yet, to run another cabinet agency? (We’ll save the “who” on this list for another day.)

But will President Obama even have a second term? And will Indian country be as excited about Obama in 2012 as it was in 2008?

It’s way too early in the process to answer the first question. We don’t even know yet which of the Republican challengers is the strongest contender, making it hard to compare philosophy, record and approach to governing. Answering the second question is also complicated. Many in Indian country saw the last election in terms of immediate change. Some are disappointed because President Obama didn’t do this or that. But the U.S. government is slow. Real change needs to be a sustained effort over time. The president has done a solid job working with tribal leaders on core issues, ranging from consultation to protecting the budget from sharp congressional cuts. And the idea that U.S. policy could be worse—far worse, at that—is not a message that excites voters.

After the last election, Wizi Garriott, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who was then working for the Obama campaign, told Indian Country Today, “For us, the campaign has always been about community empowerment. We’ve tried to put as many resources as possible into Indian communities so we can help our own people organize and empower themselves. That’s what this is all about.”

That’s still what it is about. The type of change that’s required is not going to come from any presidential administration. It will require more people to organize and empower themselves at the community level. To my way of thinking the Obama administration’s policies have complemented that very notion. If that message is clear—especially if it is accompanied by specific Obama administration policies and actions—then there is a good chance Indian country will turn out and vote again.

I write opinion and not straight news. So I will be blunt. It’s critical for Indian country to re-elect President Obama. We also need a Democratic-controlled Senate (if not House).

But to make that happen it’s important that Indian country look for reasons to get excited about a second term for President Obama, instead of simply being against a Republican candidate. That excitement (not anger) is what will stir a stronger turnout. This was true in 2008. It was true in Alaska’s Senate race. And it could be true again in 2012.

An energized Indian country could make a difference and decide the outcome in Alaska, Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Washington. This one voting bloc could be the difference between a Republican Senate and a Democratic one.

Why does this matter? The House Republican budget is a template for what that party would like to do to the federal budget. Its impact on Indian Country would be catastrophic. We cannot let this happen—so winning the next election is critical.

And, like Canada, perhaps a second Obama administration will break the record when it comes to federal cabinet appointments. ‘Course it’ll only take one appointment to do that.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. Trahant’s recent book, The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars, is the story of Sen. Henry Jackson and Forrest Gerard.

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doubleh820's picture
Being new to this site, I'm a bit confused and concerned about all the apparent support for the socialist Mr. Obama. I wouldn't vote for him with a gun to my head. I'm embarrassed that he represents my nation, but that will change in 2013. He will be just a bad memory like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Those who believe in socialism have never nor will be friends of native Americans. We should be about standing on our own feet as in centuries past, not relying on liberal government handouts. I have spoken.
dpwiese's picture
While the President has done a good job on reaching out to tribal leaders, he has done very little to reach out to tribal members in urban,rural and suburban communities where the majority of Indian people live. If we are talking votes, where are the Indian voters?People vote where they live and that includes Indian people. Indian people vote where they live!
kiowascout's picture
If not Obama, who else is going to be helpful to tribes? Romney? Gingrich? Pawlenty? Is Obama perfect? No. But, we have the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the Tribal Law and Order Act, an ANNUAL Tribal Leaders Summit, a delineated Tribal Consultation Policy, and a high level White House official who is Native. AND, accomplished in the MIDDLE of the worst national economic realities since the Great Depression. Do you REALLY think the grass will be greaner on the other side? Who are you guys looking for? Name a better candidate. You gotta support somebody or we allow others to make decisions FOR us instead of WITH us. If Obama has done NOTHING, then are you willing to give back the $2 billion of added health care money, the $2 million for more tribal police? Really, how about some logic here.
honorindians's picture
Didn't President Obama have complete and veto proof control over the House and Senate his first 2 years of office? More money was spent on Palestinian housing on the West Bank than in Indian country. More money will be spent on just the Libya "war" than the entire BIA budget. Please don't cite the Tribal Law & Order Act as progress. All that bill did was impose more federal mandates on tribal courts, and further erode tribal sovereignty. He has spent more time on the golf course than in Indian Country. Indian country will never be a high priority for any politician. It is time to stop relying on any one politician or political party to live up to the government to government relationship with tribes.
lawyermike's picture
This part of Indian Country sees things differently. Much so. There are two groups who are joined at the hip with the democrat party: the blacks and the Native Americans. There are two groups who are at the bottom of the pile in every economic areas: the blacks and the Native Americans. I cannot believe that I am the only one who sees a cause and effect here. I used to be a democrat. I was the president of the college democrats when I was in college. Never again will I support a democrat. They talk a good pitch. But to paraphrase Abe Lincoln: "They pay off in talk". What party was Senator Ben from Colorado? He started out as a democrat but switched over to being a Republican. Why? In my humble opinion it was because I came to the conclusion that the Republicans didn't care about him as an Indian/Native American but they cared about him as a person. The democrats didn't care about him as a person or as an Indian/Native American. I am from Michigan. MaIn the 19th century we elected our frist Native American to the legislature. Guess what party she belonged to.
thechief's picture
Very true. I used to be a democrat until I realized all of their policies were killing Natives. I have aunts and uncles that will only vote democrat because they feel they will protect their welfare benefits. Its sad because my aunts and uncles are intelligent and able bodied but all found a way to collect some form of welfare. The democrats feed their appetite for failure telling them "its ok, you are disenfranchised and have been discriminated against, you need more government programs." I don't agree with all of the republican platforms but I am with anybody who is in favoring of shrinking the federal government.
kamama's picture
Obama has not kept any of his promises since being in the White House, so what makes you think that he will keep any promises he makes. He told us that he would get Peltier released from prison, is he released, no. He has however made it possible that the illegals that have not committed any other crime but crossing our borders a stay in America. No matter how many jobs they take away from us. He has broke the promise that they would not be allowed to be on the Obamacare, which I don't know of anyone wanting that, now they will be included whether legal or not. They have been able to use our Social Services, those of us that do not live on the Indian Country. He has not kept one promise he made. So what makes you think that he will keep any promises. What makes you think that the Democratic Party can keep paying the Tribes, when the money runs out, who do you think will be hit first. The only people he has shown honor to is the illegals and the muslims. No I do not trust him and will not vote to re-elect him.
kamama's picture
Federal Government is way over budget, something has to be done and everyone including the Native Americans will have to sacrifice. We can no longer depend on the Government, we must learn to depend on each other and ourselves. How does it make you feel when you call a business or Government Offices that you either have to state to hear in English other than Spanish. Of you have to listen to greetings and instructions in English and Spanish. Some of us have been fortunate enough to still be raised around where our languages are spoken, the rest of us know bits and pieces of our own language and some of other Native American Language. This because our ancestors were not allowed to speak our own language and through the years have lost our language. Our own language is a second language but the Hispanics come here and everyone is speaking Spanish as well as English. Is that not a slap in the face of our people?
kizzy's picture
it will be postive because the country will need to adjustment on economic to improve the family values that it takes to held a household in order.