Indian Country shares spotlight at Democratic National Convention

Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 2016. Haaland, the chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party, is a delegate for New Mexico. Photo by Indianz.Com

Indian Country shared the spotlight at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday as the party officially nominated Hillary Clinton for president.

From Alaska to North Dakota to Washington, tribes and their contributions to society landed several mentions during the always-colorful roll call of the states. But there also were some historic firsts before a nationwide audience of millions.

First there was Deb Haaland of Laguna Pueblo. In her traditional dress, she helped announce the state of New Mexico's votes for Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

During the roll call, Haaland noted that New Mexico is home to 23 tribes -- 19 Pueblos, the Navajo Nation, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe. She highlighted the "great agricultural history" that originated with the state's first Americans while Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), who shared the announcing duties, paid tribute to the Navajo Code Talkers, the soldiers who used their language to help win World War II.

"It's always a proud moment when I can represent my community and the people of New Mexico," Haaland said in an interview on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center.

Haaland's appearance also was significant because she is the first Native woman to serve as chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party. She is one of two tribal citizens in the state's delegation at the DNC -- the other is Brian Lee, a member of the Navajo Nation.

"It's a very proud moment," Haaland said of her attendance at the convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Shawn Bordeaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 2016. Bordeaux is a delegate for the state of South Dakota and a state lawmaker. Photo by Indianz.Com

Further down in the roll call, South Dakota landed another first. State Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, introduced the delegation in the Lakota language.

"Hau mitakuyepi na mitakolapi," Bordeaux said on the floor. "Hello, family and friends, I extend my hand to you from my heart with good feelings in our beautiful Lakota language."

In an interview, Bordeaux said he believed his remarks were the first time that Lakota has been spoken at a Democratic convention. Besides the lawmaker, the state's delegation at the DNC includes four tribal citizens -- Cecilia Fire Thunder, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe; Alli Moran, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; and Allison Renville, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate.

"It felt great," Bordeaux said of his participation in the roll call. "I felt like we certainly are getting recognition that's long overdue."

Elsewhere during the roll call, the state of Montana vowed to elect Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, to the U.S. House of Representatives. If she wins in November, she would be the first Native woman in Congress.

The Big Sky State's delegation includes four tribal citizens: Caryn Kallay, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Donavon Hawk, a member of the Crow Tribe; Sharon Peregoy, also Crow; and Rae Pepper, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, according to the Montana Democratic Party.

Isabelle Baker, 87, the mother of Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, helped announce the delegate votes from Oklahoma. She is not a tribal citizen but she noted that the Sooner State is home to 39 tribes.

Alaska's announcement also made reference to the 229 tribes in the state. The delegation sported their kuspuks, a traditional Native item of clothing, during the roll call, and some are even wearing them on the streets of Philadelphia despite sweltering temperatures in the city.

“We really take pride in these kuspuks," George Sookiayak, who is Inupiaq and is one of a handful of Native citizens in the state's delegation, told Indianz.Com earlier this week. He said each kuspuk was fitted for each participant.

"They are unique to us," Sookiayak said.

Cecilia Fire Thunder at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

In the end, the roll call produced 2,838 votes for Clinton and 1,843 Sanders. Cecilia Fire Thunder, who is attending the DNC as a pledged delegate for Clinton, was beaming after the tally.

"I support women," Fire Thunder, who was the first woman to serve as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said in an interview. "It doesn't matter what race -- if you let them, they can motivate you."

Fire Thunder was especially proud because South Dakota's roll call officially put Clinton past the 2,383 votes needed to secure the nomination.

Mark Van Norman, a prominent attorney and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, also embraced the nominee. Whether it's picking a new justice for the U.S. Supreme Court or ensuring that tribes can continue to restore their homelands through the land-into-trust process, he said the next president will play a big role in Indian Country.

"We've got to keep the ball rolling," Van Norman said in an interview at the Wells Fargo Center.

Later in the evening, delegates heard from Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States. He made a brief mention of "Indian Country" during his wide-ranging speech, which held the audience in rapt attention for more than 40 minutes as he made the case for Hillary Clinton, a former First Lady, former Secretary of State and former U.S. Senator from New York.

"She worked for farmers, for winemakers, for small businesses and manufacturers, for upstate cities in rural areas who needed more ideas and more new investment to create good jobs, something we have to do again in small-town and rural America, in neighborhoods that have been left behind in our cities and Indian Country and, yes, in coal country," Bill Clinton said.

The Native American Council, whose first meeting on Monday drew more than 100 participants, is reconvening on Wednesday morning at the convention center in downtown Philadelphia. Later on, delegates will hear from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

The convention itself concludes on Thursday with an official acceptance speech from Hillary Clinton.

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