Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pioneer Editorial: GOP absent from Indian politicking

Bemidji Pioneer Editorial Board Bemidji Pioneer

Published Sunday, October 19, 2008

Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken’s visit to our area today begs a question. He will today visit with members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe on the three separate reservations.

Why make special visits to American Indian reservations?

American Indian tribes are sovereign nations whose members are also U.S. citizens and entitled to vote in non-tribal elections which include the reservation in their jurisdiction. And, as sovereign nations under treaty, tribes as a government have needs that must be raised to a government-to-government basis with federal, state and county governments.

Today’s visit by Franken isn’t his first — he’s visited the three reservations numerous times over the summer.

To our knowledge, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, the Republican seeking re-election, has never set foot on the Red Lake Reservation, either as a candidate or a sitting senator. Why is that? Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another Republican, has never visited Red Lake during his administration, and only met with its officials in trying to get more state revenue through a joint tribal/state casino.

Columnist Dorreen Yellow Bird writes in the Grand Forks Herald last week of a pitch by longtime South Dakota native journalist Tim Giago’s suggestion that a Native American Party be formed to “educate” both Republicans and Democrats on Indian issues and how important the Indian voting bloc is.

“In the past, Giago said, the Republican Party ignored Indian people because they knew we voted Democratic. The Democrats, for their part, took us for granted because we were a done deal; we always vote Democrat,” Yellow Bird writes.

Why does it have to be that way? Can’t American Indians present their case before both Democrats and Republicans, and gain respect for those concerns equally from both parties? Perhaps the relationship has been tainted by the Republicans’ longstanding policy of assimilation of Indian tribes, yet it was Republican President Richard Nixon that set forth a policy of self-determination without termination.

The bottom line is that American Indians are a constituency with needs, along with other citizens, and should draw the attention of both parties.

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