Month: May 2008

Frmr. Senator Tom Daschle re-caps the S.D. Tribal leaders Meeting with Barack Obama

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD)

Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) introduces presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at the Sioux Falls Arena.

Interview and photo by Lise Balk King

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, May 16, 2008

The Native VOICE:

Can you give us a wrap up about what happened in the closed-door meeting with the South Dakota tribal leaders?

Senator Tom Daschle:

Well, first of all I think it was an important opportunity for Barack to hear directly from many tribal leaders from the upper Great Plains, especially South Dakota, without interruption and without the normal throngs of outside pressures. It was a very quiet and very thoughtful discussion about issues effecting Indian Country. Secondly, it was an opportunity for the tribal chairmen and other tribal leaders to hear directly, in his own words, from Barack Obama about his vision for Indian country, about his priorities effecting the government-to-government relationship that we think is very important.

The Native VOICE:

Were there any issues that were dealt with that were specific to the tribes in South Dakota that were unique to the tribes in SD?

Daschle:

I don’t think that there were any specific things about South Dakota, except that Barack mentioned that South Dakota in particular is well positioned to be a significant contributor to alternative energy development and that energy for tribes in South Dakota could be as big as gaming has been for tribes in other parts of the country.

The Native VOICE:

We know this has been a major focus of yours. Would you like to touch on why you’ve been encouraging tribes to get involved in alternative energy development?

Daschle:

Well first of all, I think we have to be realistic in understanding that gaming won’t be as lucrative in some parts of the country as it is in others. Secondly, we also have to realize that one of our greatest assets are the natural resources that we have in Indian country. With potential for production of biofuels, solar, maybe geothermal, we have an abundance of natural resources that, if harnessed, could be extremely productive from an economic development, point of view. Third, we have a real demand for alternative energy in the country today. So given those three forces it seems to me that Indian country is very strategically located to be able to take full advantage of the effort to change our energy dependence away from foreign countries and more towards our own country.

I think that all of the Indian assets could play an important role in solving our nation’s energy and climate challenge but if that’s going to happen we have to give Indian country the tools to develop those resources, including opportunities to take full advantage of tax laws in this country that tribes can not currently avail themselves of. It’s important that they have the same opportunity to use the production tax credit, for example, that non-Indians can use today and we have to change the laws to accommodate that.

The Native VOICE:

What were some of the most important points the tribal leaders brought up? What were they most concerned with?

Daschle:

Well, I think mostly tribal leaders are concerned about insuring that the next President understands the importance of government-to-government relationships, that we understand the importance of tribal sovereignty, and that we understand the importance of the responsibility of the government to live up to its treaty obligations. This includes providing adequate resources, or help for infrastructure, to law enforcement, for education and for many of the other important pieces of the tribal agenda that have gone unaddressed for these last eight years, and they raised those priorities with Senator Obama.

The Native VOICE:

Do you think there was anything that was new information for him that was brought out during the tribal leaders meeting, that was sort of a surprise?

Daschle:

I think he might have been surprised a little bit about the depth of the concern for the bureaucracy and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and how unresponsive they are oftentimes to the challenges that tribes face today.

The Native VOICE

What was his response?

Daschle:

His response was that we’ve got to streamline the federal bureaucracy, we’ve got to find other ways to communicate, including having an Indian Summit and having a senior policy advisor in the White House who can help augment cutting through the bureaucracy and getting the job done.

The Native VOICE:

Did the power of the Native Vote in South Dakota come up in the conversation?

Daschie:

Yes it came up quite a bit. We talked about the power of the Native Vote and recent elections in South Dakota and around the country, the power of the Native Vote this year in particular, and it was very important. Discussion was also focused on Native American Heritage Day and the importance of that day, and recognizing the need for continued improvement in relations between indian and non-indian people.

The Native VOICE:

There were a lot of comments made by Sen. Obama to the tribes, promises of changes and intentions. Was there anything he was asking of the tribal leaders that they offered in return?

Daschfe:

I think that Barack Obama asked of the tribal leaders three things. First, he said was appreciative of their support for those who have already expressed it, and he was hopeful that the tribes could make a real effort in getting out the vote in this important election. Secondly, that they continued to advise him on matters of import to Indian people all over the country. Third, that we begin to build a very constructed relationship between tribes and Senator Obama that could, if he were to be elected President of the United States, that it could serve as the basis of a new relationship between the President and tribal leaders.

The Native VOICE:

Thank you so much.

Advertisements

Ellis Island Medal of Honor 2008 Awarded to Frmr Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO)

NEW YORK, NY – Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, of the Cheyenne Tribe of Oklahoma, was one of 100 people honored with the NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award at this year’s ceremonies on Saturday, May 12, 2008. The award recognizes Campbell as a powerful leader for his many years of distinguished public service to America as well as his unique position as a voice for Indian Country within the halls of Congress.

Campbell has ancestors from both Native America (Northern Cheyenne) and Immigrant America (Portuguese), and his honorable legacy is a merging of these two sometimes divergent realities. As a politician, he embodies a bridge between these two worlds. As a man, he symbolizes a powerful legacy of love and understanding for his country, and for his people.

Like all of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor awardees, Campbell is recognized for his achievements in the mainstream society, but he is also being acknowledged as a representative from Indian country, from Tribal America, and for what he represents to that vast and unique constituency. Senator Campbell has spoken out many times about the dual role he was compelled to play while serving in Congress.

On one hand, he did his job for the constituents of Colorado, those people up elected him to office. On the other hand, as the sole Native American person inside that circle of influence and power on Capitol Hill, Senator Campbell was, and still is, thought of as a voice for Indian Country at large.

Campbell was a U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1993 until 2005 and was for some time the only Native American serving in the U.S. Congress. Campbell was a U.S. Representative from 1987 to 1993, and he was sworn into office as a Senator following his election on November 3, 1992. He was only the third Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in history. Campbell also serves as one of forty four members of the Council of Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe.

Campbell was the first person to address the Senate in full Indian regalia, white beaded buckskin, and full chiefs head dress contrasting against a sea of dark suits. His presence was a statement about the continuation of Native American tribes and their enduring cultural heritage. Campbell was instrumental in the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC. At the groundbreaking ceremony for the museum, he said, “No longer will Native American culture be bottled up in collections and hidden from so many people in the world who wish to share them.”

A New Step for NECO, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations

In keeping with their mission of holding up examples of individuals who do achieve the American Dream while maintaining their own cultural identity and heritage, NECO is including tribal America this year with their honoring of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and have stated their intention to continue this new tradition with the honoring of a Native American every year going forward. Cherokee Principle Chief Wilma Mankiller is the only other Native American to have received this honor, in 1997.

Executive Director Rosemarie Taglione stated that NECO intends to “build a bridge of honoring, of understanding, and of healing from communities of immigrant cultures and families to communities of indigenous tribal people living in America today,” starting in 2008 with the honoring of Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

Established in 1986 by NECO, the Ellis Island Medals of Honor pay tribute to the ancestry groups that “comprise America’s unique cultural mosaic.” To date, more than 1,000 American citizens have received medals, including former Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist, Muhammad Ali; Rosa Parks, Elie Wiesel, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Her Excellency Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, President of the 61st Session of the UN General Assembly; and Quincy Jones.

Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients are selected each year through a national nomination process. Campbell was nominated by Kurt Luger, executive director of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association, and New York businessman Bernard “Beau” Lange. Screening committees from NECO’s member organizations select the final nominees, who are then considered by the Board of Directors. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have officially passed resolutions recognizing the Ellis Island Medals of Honor, which rank among this country’s most prestigious awards. Each year, Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients are listed in the Congressional Record, honoring those who have made enduring contributions to our nation and to the world.

NECO’s mission is “to create the world of the future today, by honoring our diverse past, advocating for positive change in the present, and building strong leaders for the future.” The foundation partners with a wide variety of organizations, both national and international. It supports diverse ethnic cultural events, sponsors life-saving surgery for children, assists emergency relief efforts worldwide, and produces educational materials and programs that mentor youth to become the leaders of tomorrow. NECO continues its long-standing commitment to Ellis Island, supporting the ongoing restoration of its educational facilities.

For a full list of the 2008 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Awardees, go to http://www.NECO.org.

Frmr. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell was one of the few featured speakers at the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Awards event in New York City, on Ellis Island on Saturday, May 12, 2008. The evening was a very patriotic event, with all branches of the the military represented in formation, in their dress uniforms. The event paid tribute to all of the awards winners with a salute and a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”

Senator Campbell took this unique opportunity to educate the two thousand attendees, including many of New York’s elite, in a little bit of Indian history:

“As a former Air Force military man from the Korean War, I have to tell you I always have a wonderful feeling of elation and hope and pride when civic functions in America involve so much of our military men and women. Your presence is a constant reminder of how important they are to our freedom. One of my bills that I am most proud of that I passed the United States Senate was the bill that was signed by William Jefferson Clinton that authorized the black POW-MIA flag as a national symbol to be flown five times a year by all federal properties such as Ellis Island.

It was brought to my mind when Louis Zamperini (WWII veteran, Olympian, motivational speaker) came to the podium. It is extremely important that we do not forget their sacrifices.

I am delighted to be here. I might tell you since there are so many military people here tonight, that American Indian involvement in our military is almost patriotism beyond words, contrary to some of the old movies that exploited the Indian Wars of the American West in the 1800’s.

But the fact is, it was warriors of the Iroquois Confederacy who provided George Washington at Valley Forge with blankets and food, snuck them in in the middle of the night. It was American Indians who were with “Black Jack” Pershing when he chased Pancho Villa into Mexico, and with Teddy Roosevelt when he charged up San Juan Hill.

And, who now has not heard of the celebrated Code Talkers of WWII whose own language was the only code never broken by the Axis. So, certainly we have paid our dues. We have the highest volunteer enlistment per capita of any ethnic group in America.

I’m also delighted there are so many of my tribal brothers and sisters in the audience tonight. Some of them have come an awfully long way to help me celebrate and and I really appreciate them being here.

We’re called American Indians, but it’s almost interchangeable with Native Americans now, as you probably know. We even use it in mixed circles, although in our own circles we prefer our own tribal names. But you obviously know how we got that name, because poor Christopher Columbus was totally lost and stumbled upon our shores and thought he was in India, and we’ve had that name-fiver since.

And in a way, there’s sort of a distant connection between Christopher Columbus and myself. Many of you may not know that he was taught to sail by the Portuguese, my mother’s people, in the Azore Islands. And Christopher Columbus’ wife was an Azorean, she was Portuguese.

In 1992, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the 20th descendent on Christopher Columbus, his name is Cristobal Colon, and he is helicopter pilot with the Spanish Navy. We had a chance to compare his ancestry on the Portuguese side with my ancestry on the Portuguese side. We mused that maybe I had a connection to Christopher Columbus, too.

I sometimes get teased a little bit by my Indian relatives who question the wisdom of my Portuguese ancestor’s teaching Christopher Columbus to sail, and on the other side of that coin are people who can’t believe that we sold Long Island for a handful of beads. But we’re all here and we’re all in this whole thing together now, so we certainly must make the best of it, and we do.

My grand dad on my mother’s side stowed away on a ship to get to New York when they broke a rudder and stopped in the Azore Islands. He said the hardest part was living on the three loaves of bread and one gallon of water he brought on board with him for the trip.

But he made it here, got a job, saved some money and sent for his wife and the five kids. My mother was the youngest of those five, and was six years old when we came here. I think he shared in common what I saw last night and tonight among a lot of our recipients…he was of modest means, he believed in working hard, he was raised with a work ethic as so many of our immigrants are. He knew how to share success when he gained success, and above all, he had a dream.

So it’s kind of strange, I suppose, that my mother would grow up, coming to a country where dreams could be realized, and then marrying a man who came from a people whose dreams were literally shattered by that same exodus from other parts of the world. And they were almost as you probably know, if you’ve read our history, American Indians were almost literally an endangered species by the year 1900, but we have come back.

And contrary to many of the stories that are out there now about the success of Indian tribes, I’m sure you’ve read about some of the success of what we call the casino tribes. Believe me, they are in the minority. There are very few of them making what we might call “serious money,” and some of them are in this part of the Unites States, but most American Indians still face a lifestyle of poverty that is literally a third world country.

I heard the very good words of Mr. Butler speaking about all the children of the world who need our help, and I tell you, some of those children are in this country, and they are American Indians. If you go out on what we call hardcore reservations, they still face a seventy-five percent unemployment. Nationwide, if we get to five percent they think it’s some kind of a national calamity. Try seventy five.

We still have over fifty percent our people on some reservations who suffer from diabetes, partly because they have no money to buy food, and so they live on starchy government surplus things we call commodities. Cans with no labels that have been sent to them by the federal government. No fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables, low protein, you can imagine after years and years of that kind of a diet what it does.

Diabetes, of coarse, leads to bad circulation, then to gangrene, then to amputation, then to death. Over thirty percent of our teenage youngsters on some reservations have tried suicide in at one time in their life. Because too many of them feel that they live in a dead end hopeless atmosphere. Some of them we loose, unfortunately.

When I tell people that it is a matter of fact that the federal government spends more money per capita on rapists, killers and child molesters in our federal penitentiaries than we do through the Indian Health Service for our Indian kids, it’s hard to believe. But that’s a known fact. Senator Dorgan (U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee), who now chairs the committee I used to chair, is trying desperately to do something about that issue.

Well, those things are tough, but some of us are trying desperately to make things a little better. And I think we’re doing it as we kind of soldier on, and many of those Indian leaders are in the audience today. We know that if we work hard enough we will make life a little better for our grand kids, than what our grandparents faced in boarding schools, and, in fact, in the face of genocide practices that were done in California and in some of the New England states. That’s where the name “Redskin” came from. As you probably know, it is a name we do not like. It was when people would turn in, during the French and Indian Wars, a bit of black hair or red skin, they would get a bounty.

I don’t know of any other American…even though there were terrible, tragic things that happened to Japanese Americans during WWII, and to Black Americans during the slave days. And so many discriminatory things have happened to Irish Americans, and to many others. But, I don’t know of any other people, in this great nation, who had a bounty put on them. Except us. We did.

Well I am really delighted to be here in the company of so many distinguished people, who have made this great nation greater. But I would hope that they would remember that there are still people from the first Americans who have not shared in the success of our newest Americans. Somewhere along the line I hope we will begin to realize that and rectify it, and become truly one people under God. Thank you.

An Exclusive Interview with Senator Barack Obama

Barack Obama greets supporters in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Photo by Lise King

Barack Obama greets supporters in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Photo by Lise King

The Native VOICE:

What is your understanding of Indian Country, and what your understanding of tribes in America?

Senator Barack Obama:

Well, obviously I have enormous respect for the traditions and the history of the first people on this continent. And I think it is very important for us to make sure that we understand that there is a government-to-government relationship, that we need to fulfill our treaty obligations, that the United States government has not always fulfilled those treaty obligations – I intend to when I am president. And reflecting that government-to-government relationship, I am going to put a high priority on having a senior policy advisor, cabinet level, in the White House, who can meet with me on a regular basis. And I want to make sure that we’ve got ongoing meetings on an annual basis with tribal leaders so that they can communicate directly on issues ranging from what’s happening in health care in Indian Country to what’s needed in terms of preserving sovereignty, to our dealing with natural resource issues. I think that relationship of respect is what is most important.

TNV:

How would you change the relationship in the way the tribes deal with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of the Interior?

Obama:

Well, as I said, I want to make sure that there is a person in the White House who people can contact directly, so that they’re not just working through a bureaucracy. One of the things that I think is very important is to figure out how we can create a Bureau of Indian Affairs that is much more responsive, friendly and focused. Sometimes I think the federal government is a very distant entity, has a lot of rules and regulations, but unfortunately not the budget that’s needed to fulfill some of its missions. What I want to do is spend some time talking to tribal leaders on the ground, find out from them what would make a difference, how can we change things, how can we make sure that we’re more responsive. If we do that, then I’m confident that Indian Country can be a place of prosperity and peace, and a place where the vitality of the cultures is preserved.

TNV:

Your approach seems to be one of going in and saying, How can we fix this? How can we make people’s lives better?

Obama:

Right.

TNV:

What would you do in Indian Country? Do you have a sense of what the real issues are on the ground?

Obama:

Sure. Well, I mean there are a couple of priorities obviously. Indian Health Services is woefully inadequate, and that’s why I have consistently voted to significantly increase, and have sponsored calls to increase, health care dollars for tribal communities. I think it is very important that our education system works for Native children, and that has to be done in consultation with tribal leadership. But what is also true is that young people are going to be able to prosper in an economy that is global. They’re going to need a better education than they’re getting right now. Obviously it’s important to think about new economic development strategies. Gaming has been very important for a lot of tribes, but I think the opportunities, for example, on clean energy, like wind power, harnessing that energy, linking it to a renewed grid that can distribute that energy around the country, making sure that tribes are benefiting from these natural and renewable resources. I think that can be an incredibly powerful tool for economic development. And then obviously there are issues like substance abuse, crime, suicide, that have to do with mental health services, and those have to be provided in a way that is culturally appropriate. I think that unfortunately too often we don’t have enough sensitivity to what is going on in these communities, and we haven’t trained enough people within the communities, to provide the services that are needed.

TNV:

The most important question that tribal leaders and people on the ground want to know is, can you give us some specifics about how you intend to recognize and respect sovereignty of the tribes?

Obama:

I’m a big believer in abiding by past treaties and making sure that we are respecting these tribal governments. And that means that, on a whole host of issues, where there are potential conflicts between tribal decisions and U.S. policy, I think we have to understand that we can’t just run roughshod over those tribal decisions. That’s why I think it’s so important to set up an ongoing liaison within the White House to resolve these issues as they come up, and not allow them to fester, or to be decisions made at a lower level. And I don’t think that we should just have courts resolve many of these issues. I think at some point the executive branch has some responsibility to be proactive, and not passive. Because often times it might take twenty years to resolve some of these issues. And that I think is not sufficient.

TNV:

The question is, as a follow-up, it’s going to take not just executive, but legislative and funding decisions and appropriations – that could be a difficult thing.

Obama:

Well obviously I’m going to have to work with Congress as president. We have co-equal branches of government. I’m not going to be able to dictate my agenda. But what I can do is to be an advocate. And I intend to be an advocate for Indian Country, and for Native American people, who have for too long been forgotten.

TNV:

Would you support the creation of Native American Heritage Day as a way to help educate America?

Obama:

Oh yes, I am a big booster of that, the creation of Native American Heritage Day.

TNV:

Thank you, Senator.

Obama:

You’re welcome, and thank you.