Friday, May 30, 2008

Dems woo Native American vote - Carrie Budoff Brown

THORNTON, Colo. — Sen. Barack Obama has done it in city after city, privately and quietly. Before or after his appearances in front of crowds of thousands, he retreats to a holding room with a dozen or more Native American tribal leaders.

The rarely publicized meetings are one piece of what Indian Country leaders describe as an unprecedented effort this year by the presidential field to pay heed to this small and historically overlooked voting bloc. In the past two weeks alone, Obama, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, campaigned on Indian reservations across South Dakota and Montana as Sen. John McCain met with tribal leaders in New Mexico.

Making up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population and concentrated mostly outside key primary states in past election years, Native Americans are seeing an uptick in prominence because of political and geographic realities.

The prolonged primary season has pushed the contest into states with larger Native communities — states that typically voted too late to attract much attention from presidential candidates. With the emergence of the Mountain West as the newest general election battleground, the Native vote is more highly sought after than ever since it has proven to be mobilized and instrumental in recent statewide races.

“This has never, ever happened before,” said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, which is neutral in the race. “In 2004, we thought it was a landmark when we got a majority of the candidates to make a statement to Indian Country and come to our conference.”

Native Americans traditionally and overwhelmingly vote Democratic, but leaders said they expect some in their community to at least consider McCain because of his history working on their issues as a past chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Clinton, too, has a track record as first lady and as a New York senator, which both she and her husband emphasized on separate tours through reservations in the run-up to Tuesday’s last-in-the nation primaries in South Dakota and Montana.

“I will be your champion,” Clinton told a crowd on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Kyle, S.D. “I will fight for you. I will stand up for you, and I will work my heart out for you.”

Yet it’s the level of engagement from Obama — a senator from a state with no federally recognized tribes, a city guy with a limited legislative record on Native issues — that has surprised some in the community.

“Obama we weren’t so sure about,” Johnson said.

But from the start, Obama built an inner circle of advisers that included one of the community’s most revered advocates, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. The Illinois senator hired former Daschle operatives with connections to Indian Country and an understanding of its power to swing elections.

Native Americans have built clout in recent years, playing a key role in an Arizona congressional race and assisting in the 2002 victory of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) by 524 votes. Controversial late returns from Shannon County, which includes the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation, put Johnson ahead of Republican challenger John Thune. In 2004, Shannon County delivered 85 percent of the vote to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, making it his top county in the nation. The Native American vote was also considered key in Montana’s 2006 Senate race when Democrat Jon Tester defeated Republican incumbent Conrad Burns.

“I would like to believe these efforts reaching into Indian Country are truly altruistic — and for the large part, they are — but these candidates know that in order to win, Indian Country can be a deciding factor,” said Kalyn Free, an Oklahoma superdelegate and founder of the Indigenous Democratic Network’s List, a political organization that mobilizes the Indian vote and recruits, trains and funds Native American candidates.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Canada's Aboriginals Slam "Third - World" Conditions

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada cares less and less about the "third-world" living conditions faced by many of its native peoples, protesters said on Thursday in the second annual aboriginal National Day of Action.

"The Canadian government turns around and tells foreigners that are coming to this country that native people in Canada are very well taken care of -- that they have money, that they have houses, that that have jobs," said Gary Wassaykeesic from the Mishkeegogamang Indian reserve in northwestern Ontario.

"But in all reality, when you go into your own backyard, you're going to find third-world conditions."

Natives' frustrations have grown in recent years over the issues of poverty, health care and living conditions on many of the country's reserves. Increasingly, there have been road blockades and standoffs between native protesters and police, and sometimes violence.

But Thursday's National Day of Action was peaceful, police said, unlike 2007, when protesters east of Toronto shut down Canada's busiest highway.

"There's no violence. We're trying to get our message across without breaking windows or smashing cars," Wassaykeesic told Reuters on the sidelines of the march through Toronto, where obvious signs of support from onlookers were scarce.

More than any other group in Canada by far, aboriginals face poverty, crime, and poor health and housing. Unemployment and suicide levels are also highest among natives, especially on the remote reserves that dot the country's north.

Asked why conditions are still so bad for aboriginals, federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl told reporters in Ottawa: "There's lots to do, I admit that, and I don't claim that it's all done."

He added: "All these things are expensive, they've got to be done, and we're working through a list of priorities."

A theme at this year's protest was the effect that mining and forestry have had on native land, with damage from the extraction of resources leading to clashes between business, government and aboriginal communities.

"A lot of non-native people don't understand our issues. They think we're just a bunch of radicals or terrorists," said Maria Swain, who is from Ontario's Grassy Narrows reserve, about 200 km (120 miles) east of Winnipeg.

"They don't understand our spirituality and our connection with the earth."

In Ottawa, a crowd of around 1,000 people, led by drummers and dancers in traditional colored dress, held a protest outside the main Parliament buildings to air their grievances.

Phil Fontaine, head of the Association of First Nations, complained that while Ottawa was going to spend billions of dollars on new tanks, planes and ships for the armed forces over the next 20 years, it could not find the money to improve aboriginal schools.

"It's shameful, absolutely shameful," he said.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On the Reservation and Off, Schools See a Changing Tide


Published: May 25, 2008

HARDIN, Mont. — One of the last traditional chiefs of the Crow Indian tribe, named Plenty Coups, had a vision as the Old West was fading. Education would be the way of the future, he said — a choice to be either the “the white man’s victim” or “the white man’s equal.”

Roberta Walks Over Ice was among those who heard that message, from her grandfather. She then continued the tradition, preaching the value of education to her daughter, Jasmine, 15.

But the zeal for learning that took root in such families is now coming with a cost. Many families like the Walks Over Ices are deciding that off-reservation public schools in this small, mostly white ranching town are a better choice than schools on the reservation.

Hardin High School, 55 percent white in 2000, is now 70 percent American Indian. On the reservation, at Lodge Grass High School, more than a third of the student enrollment in 2000 has melted away.

The stigma that was once attached to sending a child off the reservation — the legacy of forced boarding-school programs in the early 1900s that tried to strip Indians of their culture and language in the name of assimilation — has faded as elders who remember the old days die off.

“If they had all the same resources, programs, assistance, whatever, I would have said, ‘O.K., yeah,’ but I didn’t want her to struggle,” Ms. Walks Over Ice said about her daughter. “Jasmine was falling through the cracks. I asked them to help her at Lodge Grass, and she didn’t improve.”

Home games for the Hardin Bulldogs football team — majority Indian this season for the first time — now begin with traditional Indian drumming, and the Crow language is studied alongside French and Spanish. There is an unofficial line in the school parking lot, one side for whites, the other for Crow. Indian pottery-making is so well established in the art department that schools from other parts of the state now come to learn.

Even the principal at Lodge Grass, John Small — whose Crow pedigree extends back to an Indian scout for George Armstrong Custer named White Man Runs Him (who survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn, fought about 15 miles from Hardin) — feels the winds of change blowing in his own family.

All five of Mr. Small’s children graduated from Lodge Grass, as did he. But five of his nine grandchildren attend Hardin schools, and his daughter, Roxanne Not Afraid, is a teacher there. This spring, the Hardin district nominated Ms. Not Afraid to be Montana Indian Teacher of the year.

The turning tide of students has rippled far beyond education, to culture and the delicate economic balance of an area where resources like student head counts and the government dollars that come with them are highly coveted assets.

Since the early 1990s, Montana has lost about 1.5 percent of its public student population every year, according to state figures, with even deeper hits here in the eastern half of the state, an area largely untouched by the second-home culture that is transforming places like Bozeman and Missoula.

At the same time, the national demographic groove of people moving from rural to less rural places — for jobs, choices and lifestyle — has accelerated, with Indians participating like everyone else.

While schools on many reservations continue to thrive, those in places like Hardin — a small community struggling in its own way as the economics in this dry, rural corner of the West erode — or in Parker, Ariz., adjoining the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation south of the Grand Canyon, have caught some of the surge. A housing shortage and lack of jobs on reservations account for some of the shift too, as does the simple fact that many Indians have come to see the public schools as better than reservation schools.

For the Crow or Apsáalooke Nation — about 11,000 people, three-fourths of whom live on a reservation the size of Connecticut in Montana’s southeast corner — the intertwined arcs of Hardin and Lodge Grass have made for a bittersweet experience. Positive things, like ambition, hope and expression of free choice, are countered against the harm to an institution that many people look back on with fondness and nostalgia.

At Lodge Grass, teachers have been let go and the number of paraprofessionals who once could help students has been slashed. There are only 357 students in all grades of the Lodge Grass schools, down from 559 in 2000, and the small community of Lodge Grass itself has stumbled, too, residents say, with burned-out and abandoned homes lining the road to the hilltop school.

“We’ve had to tighten our belts, and that hurts enrollment and money — it’s a vicious circle,” said Dennis Maasjo, the superintendent of Lodge Grass schools.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

Obama Joins American Indian Tribe, Eyes Policy Change

CROW AGENCY, Montana (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama became an honorary member of an American Indian tribe on Monday and promised a proactive policy to help tribal people if he wins the White House in November.

The Illinois senator who is leading rival Hillary Clinton in their race for the party's presidential nomination, joined the Crow Nation, a tribe of some 12,100 members in Montana, taking on a native name and honorary parents in a traditional ceremony.

Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, was "adopted" by Hartford and Mary Black Eagle and given a name which means "one who helps all people of this land."

"I was just adopted into the tribe, so I'm still working on my pronunciation," Obama told a crowd after stumbling over some of the native names.

"I like my new name, Barack Black Eagle," he said. "That is a good name."

Many in the audience wore traditional feather headdresses and some banged drums ahead of Obama's visit, the first by a presidential candidate to the Crow Nation.

Obama held rallies throughout Montana, which holds its primary election on June 3.

The state is home to some 60,000 American Indians, making them a key swing vote, according to Dale Old Horn, 62, a spokesman for the Crow Nation.

Obama said he would appoint a Native American adviser to his senior White House staff if he wins and would work on providing better health care and education to reservations across the country.

"Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans, the first Americans," Obama said.

Old Horn said the tribal members related to Obama because of his background.

"His heritage of being poor, of being an outsider, you know those two things are the commonalities that he has with us," he said. "We've always been treated like outsiders when it comes to government policy. In addition to that, we all grew up poor."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Obama Endorsed by Crow Nation and Fort Peck Tribes

HELENA, MT – The Obama campaign announced today the endorsements of the Crow Nation and the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Ft. Peck Reservation. Tribal leaders cited Sen. Obama’s commitment to Indian Country and to the issues facing its residents.

Sen. Obama’s leadership qualities and commitment to issues of importance to Indian country distinguish him from his opponents” said Chairman A.T. Stafne of the Ft. Peck Tribes“ Our twelve voting members in the Tribal Council passed this endorsement resolution unanimously. I was personally impressed with his commitment to a true government-to-government relationship and his promise to appoint a Native American policy advisor in his White House. ”

“Senator Obama understands the challenges facing Native Americans in Montana,” said Crow Nation Chairman Carl Venne. “His record as a US Senator shows that he cares about Indian communities. He respects Indian sovereignty and is a strong advocate for Indian healthcare and education.

Ways of Ancient Mexico Reviving Barren Lands - New York Times

SAN ISIDRO TILANTONGO, Mexico — Jesús León Santos is a Mixtec Indian farmer who will soon plant corn on a small plot next to his house in time for the summer rains. He plows with oxen and harvests by hand.

Under conventional economic logic, Mr. León is uncompetitive. His yields are just a fraction of what mechanized agriculture churns out from the vast expanses of the Great Plains.

But to him, that is beside the point.

The Mixteca highlands here in the state of Oaxaca are burdened with some of the most barren earth in Mexico, the work of more than five centuries of erosion that began even before the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, their goats and their cattle. The scuffed hillsides look as though some ancient giant had hacked at them, opening gashes in the white and yellow rock.

Over the past two decades, Mr. León and other farmers have worked to reforest and reclaim this parched land, hoping to find a way for people to stay and work their farms instead of leaving for jobs in cities and in the United States.

“We migrate because we don’t think there are options,” Mr. León said. “The important thing is to give options for a better life.”

Viewed against the backdrop of rising food prices in a global marketplace, Mr. León’s fight to keep farmers from abandoning their land is much more than a refusal to give up a millennial way of life.

As Mexico imports more corn from the United States, the country’s reliance on outside supplies is drawing protests among nationalists, farmers’ groups and leftist critics of Mexico’s free trade economy. Earlier this year, as the last tariffs to corn imports were lifted under the North American Free Trade Agreement, farmers’ groups marched against the accord in Mexico, asking for more aid.

Mr. León and the farmers’ group he helped found, the Center for Integral Campesino Development of the Mixteca, or Cedicam, have reached into the past to revive pre-Hispanic practices. To arrest erosion, Cedicam has planted trees, mostly native ocote pines, a million in the past five years, raised in the group’s own nurseries.

Working communally, the villagers built stone walls to terrace the hillside, and they dug long ditches along the slopes to halt the wash of rainwater that dragged the soil from the mountains. Trapped in canals, the water seeps down to recharge the water table and restore dried-up springs.

As the land has begun to produce again, Mr. León has reintroduced the traditional milpa, a plot where corn, climbing beans and squash grow together. The pre-Hispanic farming practice fixes nutrients in the soil and creates natural barriers to pests and disease.

Along the way, the farmers have modernized the ancient techniques. Mr. León has encouraged farmers to use natural compost as fertilizer, introduced crop rotation, and improved on traditional seed selection.

Mr. León plows with oxen by choice. A tractor would pack down the soil too firmly.

In the eight villages in the region where Cedicam has worked, yields have risen about three or fourfold, to between 16 to 24 bushels a hectare, Mr. Leon said. Unlike the monocultures of mechanized farming, these practices help preserve genetic diversity.

Mr. León’s work is a local response to the dislocation created by open markets in the countryside. “The people here are saying that we have to find a way to produce our food and meet our basic needs and that we can do it in a way that is sustainable,” said Phil Dahl-Bredine, a Maryknoll lay workers and onetime farmer who has worked with Cedicam for seven years and written a book about the region.

The key to determining the project’s success, and that of similar projects in these highlands, will be if it can produce enough to sustain families during the bad years, said James D. Reynolds, an expert on desertification at Duke University who visited Cedicam last month. The land of the Mixteca region is so degraded that “the overall potential is not that high,” he said.

Over the past two decades, the Mexican government has steadily dismantled most support for poor farmers, arguing that they are inefficient. About two-thirds of all Mexican corn farmers, some two million people, are small-scale producers, farming less than 12 acres, but they harvest less than a quarter of the country’s production.

Rising demand for animal feed has spurred soaring imports of subsidized corn from the United States. Mexico now buys about 40 percent of its corn from the United States.

Increased subsistence farming is not the answer to the global food crisis. But people skeptical about the idea that free trade is the best way to reduce hunger point to small-scale projects like Cedicam’s as alternatives to industrialized farming, which is based on costly energy use, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Count one more superdelegate for Barack Obama - New Mexico Independent


SANTA FE -- If Sen. Barack Obama needs a mere 170 more delegate votes to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination outright, he just got one vote closer.

That's because Laurie Weahkee, New Mexico's newest -- and most coveted -- superdelegate, just threw her support behind Obama.

"After the primary elections in Indiana and North Carolina, it is now absolutely clear that Barack Obama will be our nominee," Weahkee, lead organizer for the Native American Voters Alliance, writes in a statement e-mailed to the Independent. She adds, "Obama has proven that he can campaign in a difficult environment and still inspire thousands of new voices to take part in the democratic process."
Weahkee also had good things to say about Hillary Clinton -- "I’d like to recognize Senator Clinton for her many years of service to this country, and for laying the groundwork for women across this country to run for office" -- but in the end that wasn't enough to push the long-time New Mexico activist into her corner.

With Weahkee now a committed Obama vote, that leaves U.S. Rep. Tom Udall as the only Democratic superdelegate from New Mexico who remains neutral in the race. Clinton won the popular vote in New Mexico on Feb. 5 by a slim margin just north of 1,000 votes -- the closest presidential primary or caucus anywhere in the country except Guam. As a result, she netted 14 of the state's 26 pledged delegates. On the New Mexico superdelegate front, Clinton now leads by a margin of six to five.

Weahkee, a 42-year-old Cochiti and Zuni Pueblo member, was elected to be superdelegate amid some controversy on April 26. Since then she's kept mum on coming to a decision. But in an exclusive interview with the Independent, Weahkee explains how she made up her mind.

NMI: Why Obama?
LW: Well, I really believe it's highly unlikely that Clinton can catch up with Obama at this point. I think she would have to win all the rest of the six races with a high margin of victory and I don't think that's gonna happen. Even her fundraising efforts are now waning and that concerns me especially since she's been pushing this idea that she's the viable candidate. Those are, I guess, additional reasons behind why I think it's clear that Obama will be our nominee.

NMI: When exactly did you reach your decision?
LW: Well, I've been talking with family and close friends since Tuesday of this week. I also really believe we need to get on with the campaign against McCain. And so, I kind of felt it was the appropriate time to make my decision. So since Tuesday I started really asking people for input in terms of what is her viability and I've been saying that to different media outlets. And my own research showed that she's really unlikely to catch up and I decided to do it now so I can get on with my regular work. This has kind of been all consuming.

NMI: Which medial outlets have been calling you lately?
LW: The big one was ABC News and, of course, AP. But a lot of native newspapers, Native Times is one. And there's just a lot of people that have been really calling and asking where I was standing as a super delegate. In terms of just people, I've got a list of 500 Democratic women sending me an e-mail petition for Hillary Clinton. All kinds of people from California and many other places, just different places. I've been getting email and actual letters asking me to consider one candidate over the other. I've been keeping a little tally about where people are going and by my tally Barack Obama is slightly ahead (laughing).

NMI: Was it a hard decision?
LW: It actually was. Because I think both Hillary and Barack have a lot to offer the country. I'm extremely happy both are competent, which I think is very important. And so it was a hard decision, but I really feel that the turning point in my mind was the North Carolina and Indiana races and the fundraising. Those three factors really shifted my thinking.

NMI: Were you truly undecided when you were recently elected by the State Central Committee of the state Democratic Party on April 26 -- or were you leaning toward Obama then?
LW: I really was undecided. Even with in my own family we've been having debates about which candidate to support. And so, at that point in time I was really undecided. I understand it's a high stakes situation, but I was a little disappointed by the aggressive tone of the New Mexico Clinton campaign to challenge my selection as a delegate, because I really was at that time undecided. The aggressive tone from folks here locally just added into the my overall sense that the Clinton campaign was really aggressive. It was disappointing. I was truly undecided and they were already putting me in one camp or another. I just felt it was a bad representation on Hillary Clinton and her overall campaign.

NMI: You're half pueblo Indian and half Navajo... seems like being tugged in two different directions is nothing new for you?
LW: (laughs) No, it's not. Yeah, I deal with that pretty much on a daily basis. But I think a lot of Native people do. I don't think I'm special in that regard.

NMI: In an April 27 interview with the Albuquerque Journal you said you were most concerned with Native American issues as well as health care issues in terms of deciding between Clinton and Obama. What did you learn since then in those two areas that made you choose Obama?
LW: You know, throughout Obama's campaign he's proven to be an honest and genuine leader and to me that's key to improving relations between tribal nations and the U.S. government. I really believe that we need an honest and genuine leader who has realistic solutions for issues facing the native community and I really believe that he's going to follow through. One thing he's planning on doing is an annual tribal summit. To commit to doing that annually is really key to building a good relationship between the U.S. government and tribal nations because there's so much diversity on tribal issues and you can't really get that by one town meeting or lay it on one or two people to work those out. The other thing that was key for me making up my mind is that I believe he really looks at the root causes of issues and he understands the need for comprehensive solutions. I feel like that's real key as opposed to band-aids, not saying that Hillary is about band-aid type solutions, I really do appreciate Obama's willingness to dig in a lot deeper to the issues and recognizing structure and infrastructure as a part of the key to creating realistic solutions.

NMI: Did you ever feel any sense of obligation to go for Clinton since she narrowly won the popular vote here in New Mexico?
LW: Actually, (long pause) for me, I was selected to be a super delegate. Because as a native woman I'm representative of a voice that rarely gets heard. I truly believe that part of my responsibility is to give voice to the overlooked concerns of disenfranchised people. For someone who's from small native communities, we usually lose to majority rules and often times our communities get overrun and have to go with the majority when it's not good for the community. So I don't really feel like that was an argument as to why I was selected as a superdelegate.

NMI: Are you looking forward to casting your ballot in Denver?
LW: Actually I am. I'm not sure what to expect. I'm really honored by this opportunity and am excited to participate in this process. This will be my first time. I usually watch the (convention) news late at night but this time I'll actually be there.

American Rancher Resists Land Reform Plans in Bolivia - New York Times

CARAPARICITO, Bolivia — From the time Ronald Larsen drove his pickup truck here from his native Montana in 1969 and bought a sprawling cattle ranch for a song, he lived a quiet life in remote southeastern Bolivia, farming corn, herding cattle and amassing vast land holdings.

But now Mr. Larsen, 63, has suddenly been thrust into the public eye in Bolivia, finding himself in the middle of a battle between President Evo Morales, who plans to break up large rural estates, and the wealthy light-skinned elite in eastern Bolivia, which is chafing at Mr. Morales’s land reform project to the point of discussing secession.

After armed standoffs with land-reform officials at his ranch this year, Mr. Larsen made it clear which side he was on, emerging as a figure celebrated in rebellious Santa Cruz Province and loathed by Mr. Morales’s government, which wants to reduce ties to the United States.

“I just spent 40 years in this country working my land in an honest fashion,” said Mr. Larsen, who resembled Clint Eastwood with his weathered features and lanky frame. “They’re taking it away over my dead body.”

Mr. Larsen’s standoffs with the central government, replete with rifles, cowboys and Guaraní Indians, might sound like something out of the Old West. In fact, the battle playing out in the cattle pastures and gas-rich hills of his ranch, amid claims of forced servitude of Guaraní workers in the remote region, exemplifies Bolivia’s wild east.

Tensions here erupted one day in February when Alejandro Almaraz, the deputy land minister, arrived before dawn at the entrance to Mr. Larsen’s Hacienda Caraparicito to carry out an inspection, a step usually taken before the government seizes ranches and redistributes them among indigenous farmers.

Both sides differ as to what happened, but everyone agrees that some violence ensued. “I didn’t want this guy making any trouble, so I shut him up with a shot at one of his tires,” Mr. Larsen was quoted as saying last month by La Razón, Bolivia’s main daily newspaper.

Mr. Almaraz said he was kidnapped and held for a day on Mr. Larsen’s ranch. He responded to the incident by identifying the American rancher and his son Duston in a criminal complaint for “sedition, robbery and other crimes.”

Faced with a legal tussle over the standoff, Mr. Larsen now claims that he did not shoot at Mr. Almaraz’s vehicle. “The tires were punched out with sharpened screwdrivers,” Mr. Larsen said. “If I’d have been shooting at people that day, there would have been dead and injured.”

At stake is the 37,000-acre Caraparicito ranch, which Mr. Larsen bought in 1969 for $55,000, and other holdings of more than 104,000 acres, the government estimates. Mr. Larsen, who as a protective measure transferred ownership of almost all his land to his three sons, who are Bolivian citizens, declined to say how much land his family owned.

With his reserved demeanor, Mr. Larsen, a descendant of Danish immigrants to the Midwest, made it seem as if it were the most natural thing in the world to have moved to Bolivia in the 1960s, after he got bored working as a department store manager.

“A buddy of mine in the Peace Corps told me Bolivia was a good place to invest,” he said.

His quiet style contrasts with that of his oldest son, Duston, born in Bolivia, reared in Nebraska and educated at Montana State University. While Mr. Larsen prefers to lie low at the family home in Santa Cruz, the provincial capital, Duston, 29, has been in the spotlight since moving here in 2004.

Within months of his arrival, he won the Mr. Bolivia beauty pageant. He compensated for his American-accented Spanish at the finale by shouting, “Viva Bolivia!” before the stunned judges. Shortly afterward, he was cast as himself in a Bolivian comedy about cocaine smuggling entitled “Who Killed the White Llama?”

Now Duston Larsen is focused on guarding the family’s land, ahead of his marriage to Claudia Azaeda, a talk show host and former beauty pageant winner. Depicted in newspaper cartoons as a gun-slinging “Mr. Gringo Bolivia,” he basks in the showdown with Mr. Morales, an Aymara Indian who as Bolivia’s first indigenous president has made land reform a top priority in his efforts to reverse centuries of subjugation of the indigenous majority.

“Evo Morales is a symbol of ignorance, having never even finished high school,” Duston Larsen said.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Native superdelegates support Obama - Rapid City Journal

Native Superdelegate Kalyn Free, one of the most influential women in Native American politics, announced on Monday her support for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

Her endorsement brings solid consensus in support of Obama among all Native superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention this August in Denver.

"I'm seeing a rebirth and reawakening in this country to political activism," Free, a DNC at-large member, said Monday. "We're seeing something in this country we haven't seen since the late '60s. We're seeing record numbers of people getting involved. The catalyst for all this, the common denominator, is Sen. Barack Obama. He has lit a fire in many hearts across the country."

The Choctaw woman from Oklahoma said she embraces Obama's commitment to bring Native people into the national political discussion, including a pledge to invite tribes to an annual White House summit and to include Natives in his administration.

Free is one of only three Natives nationwide who have risen to the top voting ranks as a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Nebraska's Frank LaMere, also a DNC superdelegate, announced his support of Obama in February. Superdelegate Margarett Campbell, vice chairwoman of the Montana Democratic Party, pledged support to Obama in April, but recanted after party rules prevented her from backing any candidate until after the state's June 3 primary.

Free, the founder of INDN's List, is at the forefront of mobilizing Native voters across the country. She created the Indigenous Democratic Network in 2005 as a way to bring Native people into local, state and national political races as candidates and voters.

"Kalyn is an effective and compassionate leader in the Native American community, and I'm proud to have her support," Obama said in a prepared statement. "I admire the work she has done to build a grass-roots movement, elect Native Americans to public office and mobilize voters in tribal communities to become part of the political process.

"And as president, I will work with tribal leaders and Kalyn to ensure that they have a true partner in the White House. With Kalyn's support, we're going to bring about real change -- not just for the Native American community, but for all Americans."

LaMere, a Winnebago from Nebraska, and Free have both said the Democratic Party is offering two good candidates.

"The party rules and our democracy allow us as superdelegates to choose who we will vote for, and we have chosen Barack Obama," LaMere said Monday. "I'm pleased to have done that for Indian people across the country who see Obama as the New Deal that we desperately need."

Obama will usher in a new era for all people, Free said.

"In order to win the White House, we clearly need to reach across party lines. He can clearly do that. He can attract Republicans. He can attract independents. But more importantly, he is bringing people who otherwise wouldn't be involved in the political process, to get out there and vote, to get organized and to do the work at the grass-roots level, whether it's in the inner cities, rural America, or in our case, on Indian reservations."

"The Indian vote alone in this election can swing the election," Free said. "I say 2008 can clearly be the year of the Indian. Indian Country can decide who is sitting in the White House."