Tim Giago: Obama's vision might not please everyone
President Barack Obama took to the podium in Boston last week pleading for the Democrats of Massachusetts to support his candidate, Martha Coakley, to win the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Obama said, “Understand what is at stake here, Massachusetts. It’s whether we’re going forwards or backwards.” His efforts failed to turn the tide in an election that could well decide the success of his ambitious health care reform bill.

The shocking loss of the senate seat to the conservative Scott Brown sent waves of anguish through the ranks of the Democratic Congress. The election of a Republican, a man with the full support of the Tea Party movement, appeared to be a condemnation by many voters of Obama’s first year in office and frightens Democrats who are already worried about their chances in the mid-term elections in November.

Native Americans across this nation were ecstatic when Obama won the election because they saw in him a hero who would help them solve the myriad of problems that have plagued Indian country for more than 100 years. He made it a point to search for qualified Native Americans to fill job positions in his administration that had never been held by an Indian. He even addressed the divisive issue of the Black Hills Claims Settlement, something no other president has ever done. But with the election of Brown, the already tenuous health care reform bill frightens many tribal leaders because badly needed revisions and updates for the health care of Native Americans is also in jeopardy.

President Theresa Two Bulls of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota is very concerned. She said, “The victory by Scott Brown in Massachusetts could be very damaging to Indian country. Few people know it, but there is a section in the health care reform bill that specifically addressed the dire needs of the Native Americans, so if Brown can kill this important bill, we in Indian country will be big losers also.”

Two Bulls said that the squabbling in the nation’s Capitol reminded her of the days she spent as a South Dakota State Senator. “I and the other Native senators often introduced bills that would have benefited not only the Indian people, but all of South Dakota, and we were very frustrated that these bills were decided strictly on party lines. South Dakota is a Republican state. The United States Congress should understand that nothing can move forward without complete bi-partisan support because it is the people who suffer when everything is decided strictly on party lines.”

The Obama administration did move quickly to settle the Cobell case that was ongoing for 13 years and $3.4 billion was awarded to Native Americans because of the mismanagement of their money and resources by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. None of the monetary award has been distributed yet.

The tribes of the Great Sioux Nation also moved quickly to set up meetings in an effort to bring a united front to Obama for a quick settlement of the Black Hills land claims, but divisions among differing factions within the tribes involved resulted in different proposals that confused members of the administration. Since it would, literally, take an act of Congress to bring this 90-year legal battle to a conclusion, the divisiveness already exhibited by the differing factions could put a damper on any quick action by the Obama administration.

There is anger against this administration for several reasons. High unemployment, bank bailouts, a health reform plan that is opposed by more than 50 percent of the people, and a cap and trade program that few people understand or care about and two wars that are costing this government billions of dollars.

Americans have short memories. Few recall that it was the George W. Bush administration that brought America to the brink and it is Obama that is taking the blame. He inherited a mess that he now owns. How can anyone stop the flow of inherited red ink in one year? And that is too bad because the promise of his victorious election, the first person of color ever elected as President of the United States, may be a failure because of the circumstances handed to him, and his early failures to solve them, may condemn him to becoming a one-term president.

Change is a two-way street and the change Obama envisioned may not be the change most Americans expected. The scenario in Massachusetts may just be the beginning of a long season for President Obama and the Democrats.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com.

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