Brad Swenson Bemidji Pioneer Published Monday, October 20, 2008
CASS LAKE – American Indians face unique challenges that need representation in Congress, says Al Franken, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, who Sunday visited three reservations.
“There are unbelievable challenges facing these folks and it’s very daunting,” Franken said Sunday afternoon in an interview after meeting with about 20 Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members at the Dik-in-aa-gan Child Care Center in Cass Lake. “The spirit and resilience of these folks is very inspiring.”
After Leech Lake, Franken then met with Red Lake Band of Chippewa members at Red Lake and ended the day with White Earth Band of Ojibwe members at Mahnomen. He’s visited all three reservations throughout his campaign, with Sunday’s trip to Red Lake his third. In August, he participated in a Red Lake powwow by dancing in four songs.
“Their needs are tremendous and … this is about the unique challenges that Indians face by being on the reservation, they’re so easily isolated and there is this legacy of cultural trauma that is still with them,” Franken said. “There is a legacy of poverty and of problems like domestic violence or violence, and the pathologies that come out of addiction and things like that they face that compound some of the other challenges they face,” he said.
Franken likes to quote the late Vice President and Minnesota Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey who said the nation’s greatness is judged by how it helps the weakest. Humphrey “always talked about what defines a society, and he was talking about people who are in the shadows,” Franken said. “Very often I feel that American Indians are still in the shadows, and that they need an advocate, and I want to be that.”
In speaking to the group, Franken said if elected he would seek a seat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The last Minnesotan to serve on that panel was the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Democrat who Franken said he wants to emulate, serving on both the Indian Affairs and Senate Veterans Affairs committees as did Wellstone. While on USO trips to Iraq, Franken said he noticed that American Indians “are the most represented peoples in the military.”
Democrats such as Humphrey and Wellstone often visited area reservation, a place Republicans rarely visit. It was a point not missed by Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Arthur “Archie” LaRose.
“Where is Norm Coleman?” LaRose said in introducing Franken. “He hasn’t come to see us and to my knowledge he hasn’t been up to see our relatives at White Earth or Red Lake. …The fact is that Leech Lakers have historically been Democrats and are today strong Democrats. We know who our friends are and will support them.”
He noted that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty only visited when “he was trying to sell us on a one-sided casino deal that would have cost us and lost us hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Both Coleman and Pawlenty did visit the Red Lake Reservation for the funeral of Daryl Lussier and the wake of Chase Lussier, victims of the March 2005 school shootings on the reservation that left 10 people dead.
Republican Sen. Coleman is seeking a second six-year term, while also in the race is Independence Party candidate former Sen. Dean Barkley.
LaRose said that tribal members “don’t have a lot of money so we aren’t listed as big donors. But what we lack in money we more than make up for in voting power. … What we have on Leech Lake is a strong record for voter turnout and this year the most important thing we can do to ensure our future is to make sure we all vote.”
That push also includes state House DFL candidate John Persell, whose House 4A district includes most of the Leech Lake Reservation, LaRose said.
Votes to win the open House 4A seat “will come right out of here,” said Persell, who faces Republican John Carlson and Independence Party candidate Sharatin Blake, “We will win this right straight down the ticket.”
A campaign brochure passed out at the gathering, prepared by the State DFL Party, shows Franken in photos with officials of all three local bands, and lists as his issues that he recognizes and respects sovereignty, will improve the Indian health care system, will help every Minnesotan go to college and would seek more funding for tribal colleges, and “stand up for our [Indian] veterans.”
“It seems to me,” Franken said,”it’s a senator’s job to represent everyone in the state, and also especially represent people in the state who have had historic cultural trauma visited upon them.And it’s an obligation of any U.S. senator, especially one from Minnesota, to address them”.
Before the rally, LaRose and Franken talked privately, and LaRose listed three chief issues that are foremost in treaties between the United States and the tribes – education, health care and welfare – and that all are underfunded.
Franken told LaRose that if elected, he would seek the seat on Indian Affairs and establish a direct relationship with Minnesota tribes “to get stuff done.” In health care, he suggested an incentives program to get doctors to serve in reservation health care facilities and some kind of program to allow urban private doctors to spend several weeks on the reservation similar to what is done for Third World countries that lack access to health care, especially specialists such as eye doctors or dentists.
“I want to steer health care toward preventive care and I want to have more primary care physicians, and I want to use loan forgiveness for doctors,’ Franken said.”It’s not a revolutionary idea, but I want to promote that for getting doctors here.”
Improving health care on the Leech Lake Reservation is a main focus of the Leech Lake Tribal Council, LaRose said to Franken. “The solutions you are bringing up would be good for us.”
In introducing Franken, LaRose said that “you know Al Franken has a lot in common with Indian people. He has great respect for family – he has great respect for our Mother Earth – he listens well and he has an honest and true heart.”
With the Leech Lake Tribal Council formally endorsing Franken for the Senate post, LaRose said the election is one of the most important to Mother Earth. “Our great Mother Earth has been violated and she needs healing. We can no longer allow the careless policies of the past eight years to ravage our Mother. It’s time to admit that we have huge problems and get about the business of fixing them.”
"Franken understands tribal sovereignty and respects Indian nations as governments,” he said.
Having Franken visit “means a great deal to the Leech Lake Reservation,” LaRose said in an interview. “We’ve always been strong Democrats and supporters. I feel we’ve lacked the U.S. senator’s representation and support on tribal issues. … Al Franken can bring a lot to the table. He can help out all tribes in programs and businesses, economic issues.”
Transportation, health care, education are Leech Lake’s main problems needing federal help, he said.”There are a lot of other issues, too, related to those three main issues. … Al has made an effort to come here to meet with us and to find out what our issues are on the reservation level.”
Franken, whose career as a satirist shows through at times, told the group that if the United States can’t uphold the treaties as it should, “I guess, if we don’t keep our end of the bargain, the only thing to do is give you all your land back.”