The University of Denver was awash with red-shirted “DU Ambassadors” to provide information and directions to visitors. Dustin Moyer, 27, a graduate student in public policy studies, posed near an information table between the two lifelike “contenders.”

Denver Presidential Debate? Romney-Obama Debate in Denver Delivers Mixed Messages to Indian Country

Carol Berry

Denver’s Indian community may not have been 100 percent glued to the TV to watch the presidential debate, but a few who watched were willing to offer their reactions by phone, e-mail or in person. Despite its importance, the debate had to compete with the distractions of snarled traffic, security measures blocking off parts of the University of Denver, plummeting temperatures from an advancing cold front and, of course, the lure of other programs.

Glenn Morris, Shawnee, a professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Denver (UCD) and a leader of the American Indian Movement of Colorado, said he thought that the debate was somewhat “lackluster” and that Obama was “pretty disappointing in not countering some of the direct challenges laid at his feet in terms of cuts to Medicare and in terms of promoting legislations for banks too big to fail.” Morris added, “He seemed pretty unprepared for the debate, frankly.”

“I just think he was not as well-prepared or as energetic as Romney was. I think he [Romney] had better coaching. Obama kept looking at his notes. He actually spoke longer than Romney, but he didn’t get any points in,” Morris said.

Obama also let Romney say he cared about education without noting Romney had talked about cutting the Department of Education and Obama did not talk about Paul Ryan’s planned cuts to Medicare, he noted.

Ben Jacobs, Osage, co-owner of Tocabe, an American Indian eatery and community gathering place, was one of probably quite a few people who wanted to watch the debate, “but work kind of took over.” Although Jacobs said he didn’t think the contest would change how he feels, he “did want to see how they interacted” and planned on watching the debate later.

Betty Gress, Three Affiliated Tribes and a federal retiree who is active in Denver’s Indian community, said of the debate that she felt Obama “gave more detail” and “governor Romney was again saying he’d make changes, but what changes?”

“Both did a good job,” she said, but “there was not a word from either one” on Indian issues. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I kind of felt indifferent when it was over. I can’t say President Obama or Governor Romney won.”

Noting the “tremendous mess that President Obama stepped into [when he became president],” Gress said “It always appeared to me that people forget that. He kept us above water and it could have been worse. President Obama is going in the right direction. I don’t think he could complete the change in four years. He had to deal with the wars, natural disasters, and help the country out.”

From a Canadian perspective, Kim Cameron, Ojibwe, a former Denver resident and member of Long Plain First Nation, said, “I believe the debate raised Governor Romney’s stock, and was a good attempt at leveling the playing field, but the defining moment for me was the comment about bringing the [Keystone XL] pipeline from Canada. Governor Romney will be stunned by the strong showing of Aboriginal people against the pipeline and the many supporters who stand with us.”

“There was no mention of consultation with Canadians, Aboriginal people and our communities, supporters, businesses, and other stakeholders. The statement was made, with no clarification, and President Obama chose not to respond. I waited for the moderator to bring it up, but it wasn’t picked up on. I hope it’s brought up in future debates.”

Rachel Simpson, a Native medical worker, said, “I kept waiting for Romney to say something meaningful to me. He just talked about taxes, taxes, taxes, and that’s not really my biggest concern. I can’t see him connecting in Indian country.”

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