The Democratic Party’s Indian Problem (And Guess Who’s Next?)
UPDATED MARCH 26 to 7th Paragraph: On the afternoon of March 9, the Montana Democratic Party leadership was holed up in a small stone building in the state’s capital, Helena. Inside were Democratic National Committee members Jorge Quintana and Jean Lemire Dahlman, party chair Nancy Anderson and other members of the party’s executive board.
Outside on the sidewalk were Mark Wandering Medicine, from Northern Cheyenne, and three other Native Americans who had tried to persuade the Democrats to express support for equal voting access. An Indian Country Today Media Network team and a documentary film crew waited with them, hoping to learn how Democrats had just ended up saying ‘no’ to minority civil rights in the second decade of the 21st century—and in an election year.
Across the street was a striking bronze statue of Montana’s first territorial governor, Brigadier General (and Democrat) Thomas Meagher. He’s depicted astride a warhorse and brandishing a saber—forever in command. For today’s Democrats inside the building, the mood was perhaps less so. As the sunny afternoon wore on, they began exiting the building, bolting out the back or down the front steps, chins tucked, grimacing. They refused to comment on their rejection of the resolution Wandering Medicine had offered.
The document requested party support for satellite-voting offices on reservations during the month leading up to each federal election. The offices, he and 14 additional Native plaintiffs contend in a federal lawsuit, Wandering Medicine v. McCulloch, would give reservation residents the same ballot-box access as those living off reservations. The latter vote in county courthouses during that month. The U.S. Department of Justice has joined the suit on the side of the plaintiffs. Lead defendant is Montana’s secretary of state and top elections official, Linda McCulloch, a Democrat.
Wandering Medicine presented the resolution to the Montana Democrats’ executive board. Press was barred. Accompanying him were his wife, Ilo; William Main, Gros Ventre former chairman of Fort Belknap and board member of Four Directions voting rights group; Michaelynn Hawk, Crow head of Indian People’s Action, in Butte; and Bret Healy, Four Directions consultant.
The executive board didn’t vote on Wandering Medicine’s request. “They wouldn’t even bring it to the floor,” he said after the meeting. A spiritual leader as well as a Vietnam veteran wounded in action, he’s from a tribe that sent virtually all of its military-eligible members to fight that war—1,700 out of a population of 7,500, he recalled. He’s a man of gravitas and honor. “We’re on record as American patriots. We aren’t asking for anything other than voting, the most fundamental right of our democracy.”
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