President Barack Obama with Idaho state House hopeful Paulette Jordan

A Pragmatic Look at Tribal Participation in Non-Native Elections: Mountains, Winds, and Abraham Lincoln the Gay, Woman and Minority Hunter

Gyasi Ross

An Indian Tribe—an autonomous Nation, comprising Natives, that has existed on this continent since time immemorial—deferring to a political party is like a mighty glacier conforming to the howling wind. It simply should not happen. Instead, that mountain has been there since the formation of the earth cannot be shaped by the wind that comes and goes and blows in different directions depending on the day. The wind goes around it; indeed, the wind, as loud as it may howl, conforms to the mountain. The two major political parties come and go and blow in different directions depending upon the season; they are fickle, and will sell their mother to stay in power. Native Nations are the mountain that has been here since before the formation of this infant Nation and will continue to be here after this Nation collapses due to excess, consumerism and bad karma. It is therefore backwards for Native Nations to bend to the fickle will of political parties. To wit, the Republican Party has changed personalities umpteen times. Keep in mind, at one time they were the party of Lincoln, (arguably) freeing the slaves and then moving to Nixon, the President that passed extremely positive policy for Tribes and honored treaties to now…if there was a movie about the Republican Party today, it would be Party of Abraham Lincoln: Gay, Woman and Minority Hunter.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

With very few exceptions, it would be very hard for a Native Nation to justify supporting a Republican candidate because most Republicans are freaking hateful rednecks and would take away America’s contractual obligations with Tribes (oftentimes called “treaties”). That’s not honorable, and Republicans simply have not been honorable in their dealings with Tribes (or anybody other than rich white men) for quite some time. But Republicans are not alone in their constantly changing personalities. Democrats have changed personalities too—moving from the progressive party of FDR’s New Deal to racist Dixiecrats to Johnson’s Great Society to Clinton’s stripping away of welfare for impoverished, single moms (and NAFTA, which took away working class jobs for Americans). And now, we’re back to something that sorta resembles FDR Lite. Obama has put the “Emo” back in “Democrat”—he actually has some feeling and tries to help real people. Thank God—it’s about time Democrats stopped trying to out-Republican the Republicans. But that doesn’t mean that Democrats won’t switch again next year when it becomes politically expedient to do so.

Jon Tester

Therefore, Tribes must be more nuanced and demanding when it comes to supporting political candidates. We cannot participate in elementary school politics anymore wherein we either sit down at the Republicans' lunch table or the Democrats' lunch table. We’re too cool for that—we don’t need their tables. Sovereignty demands that we play grown up politics and recognize the Native Vote’s influence—whether giving money or turning out voters—and stop giving any of these fickle political parties’ unconditional support. With very few exceptions (like Paulette Jordan, Jon Tester and Barack Obama—websites below), they are not our friends; they surely wouldn’t do the same for us. Neither party. We’ve got to demand results. P.S. If you can, please donate to the below campaigns. These folks are undoubtedly friends to Tribes. I ask this as a personal favor—even five bucks. Especially Paulette Jordan—for those of you that do not know, Paulette is a powerful and dynamic Coeur d'Alene sister running for Idaho’s House of Representatives. She is a traditional woman, a great mom, and a heckuva basketball player. Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways) which you can get at He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called The Thing About Skins, and the website and publishing company for that handy-dandy book is (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at

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gsevalikova's picture
Submitted by gsevalikova on
Thank you ,Mr.Ross for this very inspiring article-so good to see that more canidates who are Native are willing to run for office, in spite of obstacles placed in their way and yes it can get worse. Today I heard more about how independent party delegates were shut out of discussions By RNC Chair Reince Reibus, who somehow engineered a mic failure when R.Paul was going to speak. And not just this,but he cancelled RNC 40(b) allowing free speech, while ramming through Rule 16 on the spot,no debates. This was clearly a Fascist moment if ever in America. To anyone like me, from a 3rd world dictarship with 1st World military firepower,it's simply HORRIFYING to watch so-called average Americans behold all this without protest(and throwing up.) I hate to admit this, but I do agree with those who say that the USA is barrelling toward Fascism. The site, go into great deal what is in store for all of us if this race to the bottom is not stopped soon! PS. There just came online the news that 80 Yanomami Natives were incinerated in a fire set by gold miners in Venezuela(BBC News Latin America and Caribbean) which appeared on While tryingto find out about the censorship incident at that RNC convention this just came on a few minutes ago. BRIC is the Western Hemisphere's worst enemies because they do state that Amazonian Indians are in the way of their long term plans,and they want them GONE. Two tons of Uranium were found in Bolivia yesterday,and you know there could be more,if one follows what Russia and China,as well as the other enemy countries do overseas. plenty of reporters risk their lives over there to expose what their nations are doing to democracy activists and the alternative medias there. It's NO accident that there is a real problem with abusive militarized cops and attempts to grab Indian lands AGAIN. Reporters are dying like flies and getting beaten up.

thechief's picture
Submitted by thechief on
I think its funny how blindly natives support democrats. I see alot of indians with bumper stickers declaring that the government is not to be trusted, yet vote for big government. Or the indians that declare that the BIA is the enemy with all of their rules, regs, and hoops yet, whine when the BIA funding is cut. I have learned that neither political party is to be trusted. At the end of the day its your responsibility to take care of your family. I have seen too many of my relatives reduced to vegetables that sit around waiting for some sort of gov't assistance check or benefit to improve their quality of life. Barack Obama is not going to come to your house and put on new siding, fix the muffler on your car, or get you a job. Same with Mitt Romney, he is not going to help you its your responsibility to help yourself. I am going to vote Republican just because I don't want the "man" getting involved more in my life. I carry a gun because I don't trust police to do their job. I own a business because government jobs are just glorified welfare. I send my kids to private school because I don't trust tribal schools.

laura's picture
Submitted by laura on
If Obama was so generous, he would have shown that with his own income when he was [supposedly] being vetted for presidency in 2007-8. His financial statements showed he & Michelle gave nearly nothing to charities during their marriage! So don't be fooled like so many. He is generous with other people's hard-earned money, NOT his, unless it benefits him! I cannot in good conscience vote for him, because I do not think tribes or anyone should have to rely on big brother government. I currently live in a 'nanny state' and see the detrimental effects of Democrat-party government. We need to work harder towards autonomy, not dependence, as tribal people! It's a mindset that must change. And Obama is NOT about that kind of change. He's just a good actor, but after 4 years of his pitiful charade I'm saying no more.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
An interesting read to the article considering the writer attempts to shown no biased, but closes in how he admires Barack Obama and gives website links. The responsibilities as US Citizen lie with YOU. The responsiblities as a Tribal Citizen lie with YOU. The Federal Government isn't in charge of the YOUR life, you can pick and choose what YOU like. You don't somebody like Barack Obama telling you who to dis-like based on color, accomplishments, or purpose. If anything, you will have to take on YOUR role as a Tribal citizen in holding YOUR Tribal Government accountable and responsibe. The tribal government lie of 'no more money/funding' is a poor excuse of putting to the blame somewhere else. Where is the federal allocations going? How is it being managed? Why are Tribally-runned, PL 638, being shut down, falling short of money? Where are Tribally-sponsored services going? YOU CAN'T continue to expect the Federal Government to hand you money anymore as Barack Obama has promised his special interests money. I don't want a hand-out from what Barack Obama represents. I want a hand-up from what NON-DEMOCRATS represent and have provided to Indian Tribes. Where was YOUR TRIBAL GOVERNMENT then and what where THEY doing during those times?

marklaroux's picture
Submitted by marklaroux on
Gyasi Ross, I support you giving encouragement to local members that are running for office, whether Repugnican or Dumbocrat, but don't see how either Presidential candidate aides Indians. The threat as I see it, IS in local and state politics that attempt to take away forward looking plans....sustainability (and I'm no 'Agenda 21 liberal') and native rights through manipulation of the media. Who, other than people of this land, will speak up for natives of this land? Obama? You sure? (if you could only ask gray wolves) What got BO elected was the end of infighting between a certain ethno-political group, to support 'their man' (and a whole lot of political promises). This is exactly what is lacking in most of Indian Country....the ability to 'stand fast' and not break with one's neighbors of the same mind.

lauriereynolds's picture
Submitted by lauriereynolds on
I take issue with this article.. I am an Independent, but I vote Republican Native American and not a "red-neck".... Nixon, a Republican, did a lot for Natives, as did President Reagan, a Republican, who signed in the American Inidan Gaming Act of 1988, which allowed many tribes to become self-sufficient.... what have the Democrat Presidents done for Indians... nothing that I know of...

bertkaulaity's picture
Submitted by bertkaulaity on
Clearly we have not learned from the white mans ways, keeping us intoxicated and fighting among our selves helps to keep us from wising up to the ever changing tactics used to keep our great nations down, we have never lived on a reservation you could say we're urban natives, we pay our taxes, send our children to public schools, and more, plus raised our children to be modal citizens(that's another story), experienced racism among our own kind and the general pubilic, grow up with out the guidance of our own spoken language, today we are a proud native american family with our future in our hands and looks like not much to chose from, we do agree with some of the replys Aho for letting us have our say

rezzdog's picture
Submitted by rezzdog on
Gyasi, oh grasshopper you miss the point completely and you send a double message with this poorly thought out piece. You say," With very few exceptions,it would be very hard for a Native Nation...". Very hard indeed, it would be insanity for a sovereign nation to get involved in another sovereign nation's internal elections, period. Take one Sioux nation, they actually have American voting booths on their territories. Can you imagine the American government allowing Mexican voting booths at all their post offices? That would require a relaxing of a degree of American governmental sovereignty to allow such an occurrence. So basically, that particular Sioux nation's government had waived their sovereignty to have a vote in some other State's elections, too bad. Native individuals deciding to take advantage of their dual citizenship is another matter. They can vote in America's elections and not harm their status as a Native citizen of a particular nation. As long as they do their American voting in America, not on sovereign Native territory. Anyone who tells you different is promoting Political Assimilation into the American political mainstream. End game. Just as there is no taxation without representation, there is no right to vote without taxation.

rodvanmechelen's picture
Submitted by rodvanmechelen on
The Obama administration is the operational successor of the Bush administration. In Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo and on Wall Street. Such differences as there are, are superficial. Obamacare? Corporations have wanted and supported some form of universal healthcare, and health insurance companies wanted a mandate that would require citizens to buy insurance. Just as only a Republican (Nixon) could go to China, so only a Democrat (Clinton/Obama) could attempt to deliver some form of universal healthcare with a mandate. Democrat and Republican are two sides to the same coin. For generations, Indian Country has been the Democrat wallflower: nobody competed for our support because everybody knew we belonged to the Democrats. Ten years ago that really began to change, and now tribes are courted by Republicans. But we have a long way to go, and little time. Both parties are hard at work to eliminate the Constitution, and the federal relationship with Indian Country is predicated upon treaties and a body of case law that is rooted in the Constitution. Politics is a dirty business, and we would be naive to think either party is our friend.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Barack Obama is no friend of Native Americans. You can not push for male homosexual and child molester rights and be a "friend" of our culture. Anyone who thinks that doesn't even KNOW what their culture and history is about. People have been brainwashed against their own traditional values by the media and politicians with an agenda to buy Native votes. And why does Obama want to disarm us? If the gun free zone is such a good thing why don't these politicians start by enacting the White House, the Senate, the House, and all Federal Courts as gun free zones? They are dirty hypocrites, liars and thieves but they still want to buy your vote with tax money.