Meet the presidential candidates: Kent Mesplay
LA MESA, Calif. - For those who are disillusioned with the presidential offerings of the entrenched two-party system, the 2008 elections may provide an opportunity to vote for a ''native son'' who supports a number of policy positions that resonate in Indian country.
Kent Mesplay, who is of Blackfoot heritage, is seeking the Green Party nomination for president. The Green Party is strong on the environment, social justice, community-based economics and other values that mesh harmoniously with traditional values.
Looking at the field of Democratic and Republican candidates, Mesplay says they are ''just two sides of a long trail of broken promises.''
''As a presidential candidate and as a 'native son,' I can bump this competition up a notch. After I receive my party's nomination during this primary season, I will make the interparty presidential debates more interesting and applicable to indigenous people by mentioning such unmentionable words as 'genocide' on the campaign trial,'' Mesplay told Indian Country Today.
Indeed, indigenous issues will be a central theme of his campaign, Mesplay said.
''I want to provide a voice to those throughout Indian country to raise issues that have not been raised on the campaign trail, to talk about the importance of sovereignty as far as the independence it's supposed to afford tribal people, but also because of the obligation the federal government has. I think it's critical where there are debts that need to be paid by the federal government these need to be paid as soon as possible, where money has been held in trust for lands that have basically been stolen, where treaties haven't been honored. The late Vine Deloria Jr. was a close family friend,'' Mesplay said by way of explanation for his positions.
Mesplay has a varied cultural, experiential and educational background.
He earned a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University. After graduating, he worked at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach and taught high school math. In 2001, he began working as an air quality inspector at the Air Pollution Control District in San Diego, a job he holds today and really enjoys, he said.
He became a registered, active member of the Green Party in 1995.
''I was particularly impressed by the social justice aspect of the Green Party. It's not just about saving endangered species; it's much broader and deeper than that as far as basic policies go,'' Mesplay said.
But Mesplay's unique early life experiences with his Lutheran missionary parents - Blackfoot father and German-Scottish mother - were likely the most formative.
''As far as my Native background goes, my life purpose and the reason why I'm here has to do with helping people develop sustainability, achieving and maintaining self-reliance,'' Mesplay said.
''I didn't grow up on the reservation. I grew up in an environment that in many respects is even more primitive than some of our more isolated reservations. My dad picked the least hospitable place on the planet that you could think of: he chose Papua, New Guinea,'' Mesplay said with a laugh.
''So I grew up with Stone Age people in the middle of the rain forest. We didn't have television or even telephones. We captured rainwater for drinking and had a garden. There was a small air strip where we had provisions flown in, but we were largely self-reliant and that's part of who I am as a person.''
Sustainability and self reliance are crucial to security, Mesplay said.
''As a nation, we're really living outside our needs. We import 80 percent of the food we eat. We import energy. In some parts of the country, we import water. In the time of any crunch - be it environmental or from terrorists - people are better off if they have their needs met in the community or in the region.''
But the government and large businesses don't like that, he added.
''They act more in terms of stripping away wealth and breaking down people who are largely independent. That's what they've done with the tribes and the nations over the years. That's what they're doing internationally now.''
Mesplay said he looks at tribal communities as role models, ''not as some relic of the past that we need to be ashamed of, but as models of the future in terms of how we need to work together cooperatively rather than this crazy competition and the rat race people are in.''
Mesplay doesn't have or need a separate Indian health care policy, because the Green Party supports universal health care.
''We see health care as a human right, and the U.S. is a wealthy enough country to have a truly universal health care system than will cover everyone,'' he said.
Mesplay said he is undergoing the same process of self-definition that many people of mixed ancestry face.
''What I see as being the challenge for people everywhere, and especially indigenous people who have had change thrust upon them in a hurry, is to decide what do we keep from our cultural and our traditions and what do we bring in to augment or supplement them?''
Technology, for example, is a tool that can help or hinder, depending on its use, Mesplay said.
''They can help people survive, but of course if there are going to be power lines put in, the elders need to be asked first, tradition has to be followed. ... So I'm interesting in helping sacred sites survive where people are sensitive to the energies that have gone before. These are voices that need to be heard. I know that climate change is real, not just because of computer modeling and the science, but because I've been listening to people in Indian country coming forth with some information, for example, that's come out of the Hopi that the weather is changing. And there are signs that this is a time to live a very intentional life and to be very careful, not just with what we do, but also with our thoughts.''
If Mesplay doesn't win the presidency - a possibility that has occurred to him, he said with a laugh - he plans to center his life work around tribal people both in the United States and internationally.
''I have a good understanding of the problems we face on different levels and I have a lot to offer as a candidate, but it's not just about being in a political party; it's about creating a better way of life.''
More information on Mesplay is available at www.mesplay.org.