Searching for Signs of Native American Life at the Republican Convention

Ojibwes from a VFW post in Minnesota helped open the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. But after they left the stage, there wasn't much left for Native Americans to see.

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native american color guard RNCVets from the Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation helped open the Republican convention.
Photo: GOP

First, I want it to be known, I don’t care “˜bout your baby daddy!!

Let us pause for a moment from the important national news about the father of Bristol Palin’s love child and consider the role Native Americans are playing in the Republican National Convention this week in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Tuesday night began with a flourish. Amid a sea of red and pink, flush-faced white folks in red shirts, four veterans from the Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation’s VFW of Minnesota helped carry in the flag colors at the opening ceremonies.

So, Indians exit stage left. Somehow we hear that Bobby Cleveland, Choctaw, of Oklahoma, is a GOP delegate. He is the sole Native American delegate at the convention. That’s pretty much it for Native Americans at the GOP Convention in St. Paul.

For Indian voters, the sparse attendance of native delegates may be seen as an allegory for the role Native Americans play at the GOP Convention, in the Republican Party and in Sen. John McCain’s campaign and political platform.

Native Americans traditionally vote Democratic and seem to be seeking a more active, equal role in that party’s politics, as evidenced by the 143-member native caucus at the Democratic Convention last week in Denver. The slim numbers of Native American delegates at the GOP convention would indicate that native people have a long way to go in the Republican Party.

As Senator of Arizona, a state with 20 tribes, and with years of service on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, McCain has often supported and sponsored legislation beneficial to Indian people. He has also spoken in favor of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. But McCain and his campaign have clearly indicated that native people should not set their sights on becoming traditional players in his presidential campaign.

Unlike Barack Obama, McCain is not accepting campaign funds from tribes or tribal groups. The senator maintains that tribes need to spend their money on meeting the needs of Native Americans rather than on influencing policiticians.

Tribal leaders accuse McCain of taking a patriarchal attitude in general toward tribes. They note in particular the senator’s dismissive tone towards Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian Trust fund lawsuit. During past meetings of the Committee on Indian Affairs, tribal leaders have criticized McCain for what they call undue enthusiasm for curbing tribal gaming activities and highlighting tribal ties to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Abramoff campaigned against McCain during his 2000 presidential bid.

Undoubtedly, however, McCain will continue to have the support of many in Indian country, including veterans and those opposed to abortion.

No matter what happens, Alaskan native peoples are clinging to the hope that McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, as his running mate will bode well for them if the GOP wins this election. Native advocates from some of that state’s more than 200 tribes, however, are critical of the governor, charging she has not spoken up for subsistence hunting and fishing and is single-minded in her focus on developing oil and gas resources. In this energy-rich state, where rural Native Alaskans pay $8.00 for a gallon of heating oil, Barack Obama’s proposed energy rebate is gaining him support.

Gov. Palin has not received a ringing endorsement from Indian country. She has yet to appoint any Native Alaskans to her administration despite her frequent mentions of her husband Todd’s Yup’ik heritage. The “first dude,” as he prefers to be called, is one-sixteenth Yup’ik. Todd’s heritage did not affect the state’s refusal to present voting instructions in the Yup’ik language until the Native American Rights Fund won a lawsuit last month requiring the language be included on the ballot. In fact, according to NARF attorney Melanie Landreth, Chickasaw, many non-English speaking rural native Alaskans didn’t know they were allowed to vote in national elections.

A Camai dance in Bethel, Alaska, an annual Yup'ik celebration. Gov. Palin's husband is one-sixteenth Yup'ik.
Photo: Images Of Life

Palin has, however, fired one of the few native Alaskans in Alaskan state government, Tom Monegon, public safety commissioner. In “Troopergate,” as it has been dubbed, she is alleged to have fired Monegon when he wouldn’t remove her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper. The matter is under investigation by the state legislature.

In more important news, I got a look at Bristol Palin’s baby daddy, and he is indeed a damn fine looking young man. Maybe he’s part Yup’ik!

 

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