American Indian Delegates Swarm Democratic National Convention

Rob Capriccioso

American Indians, making their presence known as a force to be reckoned with in American politics—especially in an age of close swing-vote elections where every vote matters—are all over the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled to conclude tonight with the acceptance of the party’s nomination by President Barack Obama.

In total, there are 161 Native Democratic delegates attending the convention, according to Holly Cook Macarro, a tribal lobbyist with Ietan Consulting who has sat in on Indian meet-and-greets with Jill Biden and top administration officials taking place throughout the three-day event in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her husband, Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, is one of those delegates, and he cast his vote in support of Obama early on September 6 after a rousing speech by former president, Bill Clinton.

“The attendance by American Indians at the DNC is unparalleled,” said A. Gay Kingman, executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association. She noted that there are two American Indian delegates attending the convention from South Dakota, along with American Indian South Dakota State Representative, Kevin Killer, and she said there are at least two American Indians attending as delegates from North Dakota.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, said that Glenda Embry, his tribe’s public relations director, is a delegate, and that he is proud of the support for tribal sovereignty expressed in the recently released Democratic platform.

Several more Democratic Indian delegates hail from Washington state, California, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, and other states with large Native populations.

“I know there is much excitement and support for President Obama,” Kingman added. “He has worked with our tribes, brought our own American Indian qualified people into his administration, instituted many positive changes for our tribes, and started the ball rolling for more improvements. We want him to be able to continue the momentum for progress on our reservations.”

All this political action comes not only thanks to positive feelings for Obama, but also because Indians want to establish an official Native American Caucus with the DNC. For years, they have not had enough numbers in attendance to meet the organization’s requirements, and instead have had to meet via an informal council, as they did on September 5, at which U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, implored them to “speak with one voice,” according to attendees. In the DNC structure, a caucus of Indians would have more power, meaning more sway in getting attention and action on Indian issues and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) support. The lack of a caucus likely played a role this year in Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s purposeful ignoring of Indian delegates who called for her to meet with them at the convention about her alleged Cherokee ancestry and the nationwide controversy it has caused. If an official DNC caucus made such a request of Warren, she would have been less likely to able to ignore it.

The increased Indian attendance also comes despite the demise of the Indigenous Democratic Network, known as INDN’s List, in late-2010. The political action committee, led by Democratic activist Kalyn Free, attempted to get more Indians elected to state offices, and it supported several successful Native candidates since its founding in 2005, but it ran out of money in those efforts.

Free has turned her attention to advising Bill John Baker, recently elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and she has served as his lawyer. Not coincidentally, Baker was a delegate at the convention, and has been vocal in his support for Obama, telling The Oklahoman that Obama “is the best president for Indian country in the history of the United States.”

Other activists, like Lona Wilbur, a Swinomish citizen and DNC member and delegate, have also stepped up to fill in the gap. This year, she helped coordinate a strong Washington state delegation of Natives to attend the convention, noting that two tribal leaders were tapped to serve as Obama Delegation Committee members, Leonard Forsman, a Suquamish citizen and chairman, and David Bean, a Puyallup councilmember. “Washington is the only state to have an enrolled Native American as an elected DNC member of fifty states,” Wilbur said, referring to her own unique position.

Denise Juneau, a Mandan and Hidatsa tribal citizen and first Indian woman elected to a statewide office, also played an important role, having been selected to give a speech before the convention on September 5, focused on Indian education. Carol Juneau, her mother, served as a delegate from Montana, casting a vote in support of Obama’s nomination.

Indian delegates and attendees have received strong support in their efforts from some top officials of the DNC, including Brian Bond, director of constituency outreach with the organization, and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and former DNC Chair Howard Dean; but still, a lot of work needs to be done to get the party to recognize that tribal outreach is crucial, according to dedicated Native activists. This year’s GOTV focus by the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party, for instance, has been centered overwhelmingly on states, with tribes as an afterthought—which is not the best way to get Natives to vote, since state processes have historically been bad at addressing Indian voters. DNC outreach to the media on Indian issues has also been lacking, as officials with the organization have been able to offer few concrete details of Native involvement and achievement.

“There's still work to be done,” said Gyasi Ross, a Blackfeet citizen and lawyer with the Crowell Law Office who worked for Obama’s campaign in 2008. But he and other Democratic-minded Indians strongly believe this convention has been a step in the right direction.

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taliamyres's picture
Submitted by taliamyres on
Bill John Baker was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, not chairman.

jimmyhitchcock's picture
Submitted by jimmyhitchcock on
I hope that they are better at letting the native Americans vote this year than in the past when they were either refused the right to vote at the poles or were threatened by nonindians outside the poling areas and turned away. It seems that even though complaints were lodged, nothing ever came of it, That is why many do not bother to register to vote, they do not want to put up with threats to them or their families, especially in the Dakota's.

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
Thanks for the refinement. We've adjusted the story.

wisgriz's picture
Submitted by wisgriz on
Aside from being a Native American Caucus to address the Elizabeth Warren issue. The one who should address this matter is Barack Obama himself (He's head of the Democratic Party). He could've spoken and corrected Elizabeth Warren himself.He could've contacted the Cherokee and arranged a sit down with her. Remember (Beer Summit between Louis Gates and white cop). He choose not to and ignored it. Instead he posed with her at gatherings in Boston to support her bid for the senate. Let's remember the behavior of Gov. Deval Patrick (D) when Cherokee women from the genelogy office of the tribe came to meet with her. He dismissed them and in sense slandered them. The Governor is black. He holds the office of a State. If it weren't for MLK,Civil Rights etc. He would not be in office. Here he turns around and mistreats these women like nothing. If that happened to Black people there would be a firestorm. How much do Blacks really understand Indians or better yet Indian women? The officials of the DNC are not throwing their support for Obama in Montana and North Dakota because they know that Obama won't win these states. Isn't it an irony that these two states have large Indian populations that voted for him in 08 and now his own party turns on them and Jon Tester in this election year. If Tester wins because it will be the support of Montana Indians not Obama's help. For Cherokee President Bill John Baker to say Obama is the greatest president for Indians when his own people were mistreated by high ranking DNC officials in regards to addressing Elizabeth Warren's identity is appalling. As Indians are we settling for Obama's charisma and charm instead of actions in regard to Warren? To give time for a respected women like Denise Juneau is very patronizing and demeaning. In light of what Obama and other DNC didn't do to address the Warren issue. I believe as Indians we expect more from both political party's in the form of action not words. The second to last paragraph of this article, is there an undercurrent of bias toward Democrats in this paragraph wanting them to reach Native people instead of Republicans? I consider myself an independent minded Anishinabe man. I don't think both party's have the answer for us. Don't settle for charm and charisma, settle for action. Wisgriz

gsevalikova's picture
Submitted by gsevalikova on
Yes, wizgriz ther is reason to want more than just two parties,considering thar there are Nazi elements in the GOP and Communists in the Democrat Party,as fringies go. You seee a lot of this in Cali. More Natives running for all kinds of office would really be the answer to this awful problem. You would not believe what international agents in both parties have done,and are trying to do before Americans catch on in numbers too great to ignore, and I'm Asian American myself. Martial law here is our greatest concern at the moment like spec. Order#1, which enables the LAPD to arrest ANYONE who phtographs or records cops beating/arresting/etc. as an ex pat from the USSR we were so shocked by this,since Russia always had this. We want to alert you so you can stop it. Occupy has the details,which just came out today. Freedom is on the ropes,everyone!

jaydokie's picture
Submitted by jaydokie on
I take the attacks on Ms. Warren as a personal affront and intrusion into my Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma tribe. Each tribe has the right to determine their own membership, not other tribes/individuals. I didn't know her until her speech last night at the DNC. For whatever reason, non-members are taking the battle to her because of a statement by her that she believed she had Cherokee ancestry. So what, half of the U.S. citizens make the same claim. Ms. Warren isn't a tribally enrolled member, to my knowledge she has not applied for membership, she doesn't live in Oklahoma, and she running for a seat in another state that does not impact the Cherokees except as she votes in Congress if successful in her campaign. First it was the Republican party challenging her on this issue. Now it's other tribes who want to use us Cherokees to create a stir on an issue which doesn't impact their membership, land, or funds. Do us a favor and let us fight our own battle when it comes to who is eligible for tribal membership in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. If anything, you should be taking the Republicans to task as they will spend millions of dollars disputing her statement for political purposes. Sorry folks, but we have greater issues to fight as jointly, not eligibility for enrollment of individual tribes. Please leave it alone.

rezzdog's picture
Submitted by rezzdog on
I would like to see a list of Native American delegates. Who, exactly are representing our interests at the DNC?

gsevalikova's picture
Submitted by gsevalikova on
It is good to attend conventions if you can get away,even if both parties are flawed in some ways. You invented good government here in N. America,never forget,and all over the world, reporters and freedom lovers are getting killed for simply wanting a normal life. Unless Natives attend these conventions and witness everything, you won't be able to correct bad trends later. already,out here we in L.A. hear that hard-core rightists dominated the GOP covention,not only this, but they are ill using Chris Stevens' murder to stir up trouble for America in general- just look at what Romney said about that skanky video that caused his death-that the video "represents American values"-and we know Mr.Stevens represented America in fact while those who obviously try to goad the ME crazies and America's enemies into WW 3 over there never can. His killers say "we are ALL Osama, Obama" and Romney & Co. should be checked. the cops are finally investigating video thug Nakoula B. Nakoula.( where you can find out more about this creepy agent provocateur working for a hard right Copt front. Hopefully, he will be deported after prosecution.