Friday, October 17, 2008

News from NM: Navajo Nation Rally for Obama

The Navajo are the largest tribe in the United States, with something like 200,000 resident tribal members. Their reservation spans territory within the boundaries of three of the Four Corners states - Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

Utah's safe Republican. Arizona probably is, too, especially since it's McCain's home state - with at least two of his many houses located there. Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr (elected) has already endorsed Barack Obama, and endorsed Barack Obama, in the New Mexico part of the reservation tomorrow - the day that early voting launches in New Mexico.

From today's Farmington Daily Times:

Mutton stew, fry bread, hamburgers and hotdogs will be served at the outdoor rally.

If you've ever read Tony Hillerman's novels (or if you've been there), you know the roads aren't exactly good. And that the people live scattered widely throughout the desert landscape, many without telephones or electricity. So GOTV is not a trivial undertaking in this corner of Indian Country. The Central Consolidated School District Center in Shiprock is serving as an Early Voting polling place.

Taos Pueblo

I've diaried about voting at Taos Pueblo before. Next Thursday, there will be a GOTV rally there - with a powwow drum group, musician Robert Mirabal, and frito pies for supper. (Looks like I'm gonna miss yet another of those Thursday night SNL extra shows.) In addition to NM-03 candidate Ben Ray Luján, Green candidate for Public Regulatory Commission Rick Lass will appear. There's no Republican on the ballot, so this race between a rather under-qualified Dem, and Rick Lass who got hustled onto the ballot as a Green at the last minute, could be interesting.

Musician Mirabal is registered Green himself. Taos Pueblo as a tribe has, for the first time ever this year, endorsed a Presidential candidate. Obama, of course.
Taos Pueblo voted about 94% for Kerry/Edwards in 2004. Other tribes vote predominantly Democratic for the most part, too. So GOTV efforts on-reservation make good sense. I don't know about events planned on the other 20 reservations in NM (18 other Pueblos, and two Apache groups - Jicarilla in the north and Mescalero in the south). But the Obama campaign's being pretty thorough, so I'm guessing there will be more events over the next couple of weeks, coupled with efforts to get voters to the polls early.

Obama has a First Americans vote director, Wizi Garriott from Rosebud Sioux. From a September interview in Indian Country Today, about why Obama has been received well in Indian Country:

I think there are a few reasons. One, of course, he is a very unique candidate and, I think, we as Indians really identify with him. He grew up in a single-parent household; his grandparents helped to raise him; he didn’t grow up with much wealth; and he knows what it’s like to struggle personally. For a lot of us in Indian country, that’s how we grew up. That’s our reality.

I think also, he’s the type of person who really listens. He doesn’t go in wanting to preach to tribal leaders about what he thinks should be done – he listens to Indian people and is willing to ask, "What are your ideas; what are your needs; how can we fix the government?"

That's a contrast with the Republicans of the Bush Administration. Dubya first ran for office saying he thought the federal trust relationship should end and what's left of the treaties be broken, and tribes become subject to state jurisdiction. Tribal leaders in this part of the world have complained that they couldn't even get anyone in this administration to have a meeting with them at all. To talk or to listen. (Unless, of course, for the few tribes who funneled a lot of money through Jack Abramoff.)

If you're interested in Indian affairs, I suggest reading the whole article on Indian Country Today ( In brief, Obama's credited with being serious about nation-to-nation relations, giving more respect that the "government-to-government" practices of the feds since Nixon. Obama also promises to establish a White House staff position dedicated to Indian affairs. Plus as a constitutional lawyer, Obama understands that treaties are the highest form of law, and he's serious about honoring them.

One of the things I liked about Obama, early on in the primaries, was that he had thought out some good, substantial positions on Native America. Tom Daschle is credited with helping bring him up to speed.

Indian Country is already mostly Democratic. But this year, GOTV efforts might make the role of the country's indigenous population more important than ever. Lots of swing states have significant Indian populations - such as New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.