Sen. Obama wins historic presidential election
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) made history on Tuesday, becoming the first African-American to win a presidential race.

Obama, 47, accepted victory in a speech in his hometown of Chicago. He said the election proved "America is a place where all things are possible."

"It's been a long time coming," the freshman senator said. "But tonight, because of what we did on this date, in this election, change has come to America."

The speech came after Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), 72, conceded defeat. Speaking from Phoenix, he called the election "historic."

"The American people have spoken and they have spoken clearly," the former chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee said.

Indian issues did not play a major role in the national campaign but that didn't stop Obama from staging an impressive outreach effort in Indian Country. He started meeting with tribal leaders in the summer of 2007, long before he emerged as the Democratic nominee.

He continued his path throughout the primary season and made history by campaigning on the Crow Reservation in Montana in May. Tribal leaders across the country embraced the candidate's message for change, endorsing Obama in unprecedented numbers and warming to his promises to create a high-level Indian position at the White House and hold yearly summits on tribal matters.

Tribes will now be looking to Obama to fulfill those pledges and live up to the meaning of his Crow name -- "One who helps all the people across the land." His platform includes bold items like addressing the gaps in criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country, a politically sensitive issue that even his Democratic rivals avoided during the campaign.

McCain has a long history of tribal advocacy but he was all but absent on Indian issues during the race. His Indian campaign group got off to a late start and failed to generate steam among tribal leaders, prompting one of his former supporters -- Ron Allen, the chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington and the secretary of the National Congress of American Indians -- to endorse Obama as Election Day approached.

"On issue after issue, it is clear that Barack Obama will best lead Indian Country and America, and bring us the change we all need," Allen said in an open letter last week.

The movement for change comes after eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. Tribes watched year after year as the budgets for key programs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies were slashed despite dire needs on reservations and in Alaska Native villages.

They also felt slighted repeatedly by top administration officials, who often implemented significant policies without consulting them and, in some cases, without informing them. The new president could take a second look at changes affecting land-into-trust, gaming compacts and off-reservation casinos that tribes said were detrimental to their interests.

For now, tribes will have to wait until January 20, 2009, when Barack Hussein Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, before they see whether a change in the executive branch will lead to improvements in their communities. "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America -- I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there," Obama said last night.

"I promise you -- we as a people will get there," he said.

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