Indian County support grows for Kerry campaign

The council of the nation's largest tribe voted on Tuesday to endorse Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) for president, citing the Democratic nominee's commitment to Indian issues.

By a vote of 61 to 8, the Navajo Nation council passed legislation supporting Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina). The resolution called attention to Kerry's military service, his career as a prosecutor in domestic violence cases and his visits with Navajo leaders.

"I am honored to receive the endorsement of the Navajo Nation," Kerry said in response. "As we come to the final two weeks of this election, the support of the Navajo Nation will be a critical to our victory on November 2nd."

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. already endorsed Kerry during a trip through New Mexico and Arizona in August. On the trip, Kerry met with several tribal leaders, some of whom, like Gov. Stuwart Paisano of Sandia Pueblo, are backing his campaign.

"Native Americans are looking for a president who will honor the treaties between Native American Nations and the United States," said Shirley. "John Kerry has assured us that he will do so."

The council's endorsement comes less than two weeks before the election. The resolution makes reference to the potential for 180,000 Navajo voters nationwide to play a key role in the deeply divided contest.

Both the Republican and Democrat parties have targeted Indian voters but very few tribal leaders have come out in public to support incumbent President George W. Bush. One notable exception is John Gonzales, former governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo and former president of the National Congress of American Indians, who was a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

On the other hand, some politically active Indian Republicans, like Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington and treasurer of NCAI, have switched sides for this race. "I believe that a Kerry-Edwards administration will honor its commitments and promises to the tribes and our communities," he said earlier this month. "I'm confident that a Kerry administration budget will correct the injustice imposed on tribes over the past four years."

Other Indian leaders have also lent their voices to the Kerry campaign. From Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel to former Hopi chairman Vernon Masayesva to Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, they are hoping a change in the White House will lead to improved funding, meaningful consultation and solutions to the trust fund debacle that don't penalize tribes or individual Indians.

The presidential campaign was in high gear last week at NCAI's annual session in Florida, considered one of the battleground states. Although tribal leaders expressed disappointment that neither Kerry nor Bush attended, they welcomed a speech by Theresa Heinz Kerry, who said her husband would respect tribal sovereignty.

Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Arizona) defended the Bush administration and said the president made good on his promise to fund construction of new Indian schools. He said Kerry's promises, such as more funding for the Indian Health Service, were simliar to ones already being implemented by the White House.

At the conference, Tex Hall, current president of NCAI, said it was difficult to resist stating publicly which candidate he supports. But he said it was more important to ensure that American Indians and Alaska Natives turn out to the polls in record numbers. NCAI led a nationwide non-partisan campaign to increase voter registration among Native Americans.

"I have a great idea of whom I'm going to vote for," he said last week, "and I'm sure you do as well."

The key states for the presidential campaign include Arizona, New Mexico, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. All of these states have a significant number of Native Americans, with some voting districts in certain states reaching above 5 percent and others going as high as 10 percent.

New Mexico has been a particular target of Kerry and Bush, who have each made several visits to the state in the past few months. Democrat Gov. Bill Richardson, who is close to many tribal leaders in the state, said his party registered 9,000 new Native American voters. Almost every tribe had some form of voter drive on their reservations.

Relevant Documents:
Navajo Nation Council Endorsement of John Kerry (October 19, 2004)

Relevant Links:
George W. Bush - http://www.georgewbush.com
Kerry/Edwards Campaign - http://www.johnkerry.com/index.html