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Hillary Clinton: “Skepticism of authority has been part of our national character since the Pilgrims, and complaining about government is a treasured American pastime.”

Indian Affairs Experts Jockeying to Be President Hillary's Native Guru

Rob Capriccioso

Many Democratic Indian-focused strategists are betting that Hillary Clinton will choose to run for president in 2016, and some are working feverishly in these summer doldrums – 17 months out from any serious presidential campaigning – to convince her and her associates that they would be best to handle her Native American portfolio.

The former First Lady, New York senator, and Secretary of State has not even said that she plans to run again, but she has signaled anew that she cares about some key American constituencies. Her speech at the American Bar Association’s (ABA) annual meeting in San Francisco on August 12 crystalized her focus.

“We do — let’s admit it — have a long history of shutting people out: African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities,” Clinton said. “And throughout our history, we have found too many ways to divide and exclude people from their ownership of the law and protection from the law.

“Skepticism of authority has been part of our national character since the Pilgrims, and complaining about government is a treasured American pastime,” Clinton added, as part of her overall point of wanting to build confidence in government.

Native Americans and the injustices long served to them were conspicuous in their absence from Clinton’s speech, and now, several American Indian affairs gurus are lining up to ensure she will remember to specifically address Indian country’s economic and social needs in the future, especially if she happens to want to do so from the perch of the White House.

Old and new Native-focused friends of the Clintons are eager to help get out the vote, raise money, and develop sweeping, reservation-changing platforms. As shown in past presidential elections, resoundingly in 2008 and again in 2012, this is an area ripe with votes, and especially with cash, thanks to some wealthy tribes.

Mary Smith, a Cherokee Nation citizen and former partner at Schoeman Updike & Kaufman, is one of the early frontrunners. While attending the ABA meeting this year – where she had the connections to score tickets to Clinton’s appearance – she didn’t hesitate to remind lawyers gathered there how much she has done for the Clinton family in the past, having been a member of the D.C. Finance Committee for Hillary Clinton for President until the candidate dropped out in June 2008. Plus, she worked in President Bill Clinton’s administration both as a Justice Department lawyer and in the White House counsel's office.

President Barack Obama later nominated Smith to lead the Justice Department’s tax division in 2009, but her nomination was blocked by senators who expressed concern about her lack of experience in the tax industry.

Smith, perhaps realizing that her boasts were making the rounds, told Indian Country Today Media Network that she was just there to attend the meeting, as she usually does, but legal officials who met with her said there’s no doubt she’s wired into the Clinton camp again, and she’s more than ready to go to bat for Indian country. She added that she did not have connections to attend the Clinton speech, and said she did not remind people of her work in the Clinton administration, nor make any boasts about her past work.

Smith will face steep competition from other Indian legal eagles who aim to secure a win for Indian country with Clinton.

Kimberly Teehee, also Cherokee and Obama’s former White House Native affairs policy advisor, is widely expected to make a play to lead Native political outreach for Clinton. Now a lobbyist for the Mapetsi tribal policy group, Teehee has been making behind the scenes overtures to those connected to the Clinton camp. Her widespread name visibility in Indian country will be helpful, but some run-ins with tribal leaders on Indian policy issues as a result of working in the Obama White House and as a congressional staffer could haunt her effort. She’s also told friends that she’s enjoying her rest from working for politicians, so only she knows if she’s ready for the Clinton rollercoaster.

Holly Cook Macarro, Red Lake Ojibwe, is another legal ace who is working hard to make sure the Clinton camp knows her name. A former Democratic National Committee staffer and member of the Clinton administration’s White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, she’s now a tribal lobbyist with Ietan Consulting. Married to tribal chairman Mark Macarro, of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, she has many, many friends in Indian country, and her jobs haven’t called for her to get into many squabbles with tribal leaders, although her firm has made some enemies over its work on a Carcieri land-into-trust fix and other tribal lobbying issues.

Cook Macarro joined Ietan from the Holland & Knight law firm, where lawyer Lynn Cutler serves as a senior advisor. Cutler joined the firm in 2001, after serving as senior staff to President Bill Clinton on Intergovernmental Affairs where she was in charge of overseeing advocacy for tribal governments.

Cook Macarro has a strong relationship with Cutler from having worked under her during the Clinton administration. She knows how important her "in" with Cutler will be if Clinton does run, and she even includes a note in her official biography to affirm the relationship.

"Lynn Cutler is a good friend and mentor whose advice and guidance over the years has been, and continues to be, invaluable," Cook Macarro told ICTMN.

Debora Juarez, meanwhile, a partner with Williams Kastner who is based in Washington state is also staking a claim. “I don't plan on being in [Washington, D.C.] anytime soon...not until My Girl Hillary runs for President!” Juarez recently told ICTMN. “I plan on being there and suffering in the ‘other Washington’ for HRC Campaign.” Juarez was a delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2008, and said she’d love to do it all over again.

Juarez has served as a King County Superior Court judge, performing all duties as judges including presiding over both felony criminal and civil trials. She also formerly served as the Washington Governor's Office of Indian Affairs.

After this story was posted, Juarez sent ICTMN the following statement:

"At this time, due to personal reasons, my support of Hillary Clinton cannot extend past my exuberance and admiration of her. If asked today, I would have to turn down any serious role in her campaign."

All of these strong-minded Indian women will also have sharp-elbowed Indian men to contend with in their efforts to court Hillary. The tribal affairs crew at Arent Fox law firm have an early in, for instance, having recently facilitated a partnership between the Clinton Global Initiative and six South Dakota tribes in developing a joint wind energy project. And it was Richard Trudell, the Sioux director of the American Indian Lawyer Training Program, and Kevin Gover, the Pawnee director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and former Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs under President Clinton, who previously had the closest Indian ties to the Clintons.

While Gover has long said he’s quite comfortable at the museum, who knows what could entice him back to the political frontlines? He isn’t saying. “I'm totally out of the loop on this sort of thing now,” he said. “I only know what I read in ICT[MN].”

Trudell, too, hasn’t said if he’s trying to get back in the Clintons' good graces.

Philip Baker-Shenk, a Republican Indian affairs lawyer who battled to help Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in his presidential ambitions, is one who is willing to talk, probably because the stakes for him are low this season. Based on his experiences, he said the circle of friends and former aides are jockeying at their hardest right now, trying to gain attention, favor—anything they can do to be on the winning team.

“It is an often brutal contest over who is more loyal than whom,” Baker-Shenk shared. “The loyalists chat up her chances, organize visible and financial support for her campaign, and arrange her meetings with key people. The competition for a candidate's time and attention quickly moves to a feverish campaign pace, when every minute on the schedule is the result of negotiated trade-offs and winners and losers.

“With most national candidates, the Indian portfolio has been like the flip side of a hit record – an afterthought, a filler,” he said. “But that doesn't stop Indian loyalists from trying. Nor should it.”



curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on

With all their education, did they educate themselves to the history of this continent since syphilis afflicted lost slaver, rapist and mass murderer, Columbus stumbled on its shores?
Do they know that the "Pilgrims" murdered the same people that saved their starving butts 3 years after their first winter squatting on Indigenous lands?
Lip service is just that, lip service if these "so called leaders" get into positions in the administration without saying anything about the policies of colonialism that allows the descendants of the illegal European immigrants to continue to steal the Indigenous peoples resources and lands.
As a one more, domestically the policies the government employs against the Indigenous keep us begging for money as our leaders continue to allow the white collar thieves to steal what resources and lands we have.
Internationally the same policies our government employs to invade or manipulate assassinations and coups, to bribe despot dictators to subjugate their people, while international oil, energy and mining conglomerates to steal their natural resources and lands, after the military industrial complex has profited off the pain, suffering and deaths of hundreds of thousands yearly worldwide, results in the terrorist attacks against America.
I'd be surprised to even see this printed about our so called leaders who have made their careers to say nothing about the theft and murder, in order to earn their 30 pieces of silver..

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on

Indians??? No wonder our so called leaders have no vision. They persist in calling themselves Indians after famed lost explorer, freebooter, slaver, rapist and mass murderer, Christopher Columbus bumbled his way to this hemisphere and called the first Indigenous "Indians" in the mistaken assumption he was in the "Indies".
Indians are from India.. Duhhh!!!!!!! What part of that our so called leaders don't get??
My Tribe is the Dene' from interior Alaska. We don't call ourselves Indians.
To continue to proudly bear the name given us by a mass murderer is too much to bear. Why don't we, as Indigenous people, call our people the true names bestowed on our people, by our true ancestors?
Indians reinforces the fact, that our leaders are clueless or don't want to rock their gravy train careers, so they remain locked inside the box of colonialism foisted on them by the state and federal governments, with the ideals, philosophies and parameters based on the invading illegal European immigrants who stole and murdered their way across this continent. There is no leeway from the orders and directives that prevent our leaders from refusing to allow their resources and lands to be stolen and contaminated by our government and whatever conglomerates they are in collusion with.
Our leaders make no attempt to investigate the wanton destruction of Department of Interior records and BIA records by federal bureaucrats intent on destroying any trails to their corrupt and illegal activities of leasing and selling Indigenous lands with out the knowledge of the owners.
Our leaders!! What can be said about these leaders who fancy themselves the same as Sitting Bull, Geronimo and Crazy Horse, but in actuality are, nothing but yes men and women, charged with implementing even more onorous legislation against the Indigenous.
Sickening the way our leaders refuse to take these policies of colonialism with its theft and murder to the world court and take the world court to task if it refuses to address colonialism and the fact that it is the root cause of terrorism worldwide instigated by us and Britain.
Go ahead and refuse this one

Waabooz Biboon's picture
Waabooz Biboon
Submitted by Waabooz Biboon on

I'm at a loss to understand why anyone would encourage Hillary Clinton to run in the 2016 elections. She is a war hawk, status quo, corporatist that only has the best interests of the 2% in mind and at heart (and that 2% does not include Indigenous persons at all.)

If Elizabeth Warren were to run, she, at the very least, has Indigenous empathy at heart as seen when she was taken apart for even mentioning her possible ties to Indigenous ancestry.

I don't believe Hillary Clinton, if president, would honor treaty lands over corporate interests, but I believe Elizabeth Warren would; as well as proper funding of reservations such as Pine Ridge.