I recently had two conversations with fellow Natives about the 2008 presidential election that I thought were noteworthy. First, while on a trip to Washington, D.C. I connected with Yup’ik and Haida friends and we discussed Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Their perspective was quite clear. They feel that 1) Palin has worked against the interests of Alaska Natives throughout her career and 2) her representation of the “First Dude” Todd Palin as an Alaska Native during the GOP National Convention was troubling. On this later point, they shared that Todd Palin’s connections to Native peoples is paper thin and that, tellingly, Governor Palin had never discussed her husband’s Native ancestry publicly prior to the GOP National Convention. Previously, she had merely referenced that her “children’s grandmother is part Yup’ik” which is quite different than saying “my children are Yup’ik” or “my husband is “Yup’ik”.
The second conversation was with a friend who shared that she has noticed a lot of members of the Indian Tribe on the reservation where she lives are supporting the McCain-Palin campaign because McCain is a veteran and Palin’s husband is “Native”. I find this rationale for American Indian voter support troubling. To be sure, Native people are extremely supportive of their veterans and veterans of all nations. However, to think that a politician is going to support tribes and Indian issues simply because they are a decorated veteran is naïve. Furthermore, because McCain is a long-time Arizona policy maker and AZ is a state with many tribal nations inside and straddling its borders, voters do not have to look hard to track down McCain’s record on American Indian policy. McCain and his chosen running mate both represent states heavily populated by Native people, yet neither has proven themselves supporters of Indian Country during their time in office.
I ask two things of anyone who may read this blog. First, please vote in the 2008 presidential election and encourage/help others to do the same. Second, before making your decisions about the upcoming election, look into the voting records and public comments of the candidates. There are plenty of places to find policy statements and voting records, including:
If you are Indian or supportive of Indian people, you can also look to see how various candidates are referencing and interacting with tribes during their campaigns to get a sense for how supportive they will be to Indians if elected. I’ve been tracking how McCain’s work impacts Indians since the mid 1990’s and in the last month have studied up on Palin’s record with Alaska Natives. I saw a bumper sticker recently that referred to the McCain-Palin ticket as a “bridge to nowhere”. One thing is for certain in my mind; McCain and Palin will not help to build a “bridge to sovereignty” or a “bridge to prosperity” in Indian Country. However, they could likely build a time portal that takes American Indian policy back to the 19th Century.