Native American votes being courted [with notes on Old Northern Arizona Days]

Hunter Gray hunterbadbear at
Sat Nov 2 16:02:53 MST 2002

Note by Hunterbear:

Although this attached article is fairly short, it says considerably more
than it realizes. Some important winds are now rising high in and around
Indian Country.

The general emergence of significant Native American voting in mainline
American elections has appeared in a quietly dramatic and persistently
consistent fashion only in these relatively recent years of the past
generation or so.   Although this AP piece is couched in the "conventional"
Democrat/Republican dichotomy, the limitations of that choice are
increasingly obvious to many Native people --more so among the youth. It's
worth noting that in 2000 Ralph Nader, with Winona LaDuke [Ojibway] as
running mate, impressed many Native people who voted accordingly.  So I'd
see sensibly Left alternatives as having significant appeal to Indian
people -- if Native people are listened to, Native concerns incorporated
into political programs, and Native people given meaningful places at the
various decisional "tables." And it's going to be necessary to go into
Indian Country -- and to the Indians.

Reading about the situation in Northeastern Arizona takes me back into
another and very bitter time.  Flagstaff -- "Flag" -- bordering the Navajo
country on the immediate west -- is my home town. I grew up there, very much
among the Navajo fortunately, with a full-blooded Native father from the Far
Northeast and an Anglo mother from a very old Western "frontier" family of
ranchers and metal mining engineers and some very real Red radicals.  Some
of the Flagstaff restaurants had signs which warned "No Indians or Dogs
Allowed; " Indians were frequently forced onto city and county chain
gangs -- especially to shovel heavy snow during the long winters; "justice"
for Indians and Chicanos and Blacks [and Okies as well] was a cruel joke in
those days. [Lots of minority "suicides" and deaths from "spinal meningitis"
in the city and county jails.]  Because of a Federal law, Indians could not
legally buy liquor in the United States until 1954 -- Anglo "war path"
fears --  so Mother handled those family purchases.

It was virtually impossible, given the blatantly discriminatory usage of
"literacy tests" for most Indians and many Chicanos and the few Blacks to
register and vote in settings like Northern Arizona.   My parents -- along
with other brave souls -- Indian, Chicano, Black, Anglo -- played a key role
in breaking through many of the hideously discriminatory barriers. And our
home 'way  out on the edge of town was a major meeting place. The U.S.
Forest Service, smiling agreeably at my age perjury, gave me very meaningful
fire-fighting work and responsibilities for several years before I even hit
the legal work age of 18 -- and I was still 18 when I volunteered for the
U.S. Army quite early in the '50s.  When I came out of that, honorable
discharge and all, many things within me had flowed together to effect
permanent radicalization -- and, as a university student [UA and ASU] under
the GI Bill, I worked within the slowly developing Native rights movement
and also in radical industrial unionism and student rights.  Things were
really tough in Arizona -- as elsewhere -- on all of those battle fronts.
But I, like many kids of that era, had grown up fast -- very fast indeed.
And very tough in my own right. [Much on all of this on our website.]

In the end, it took the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act
of 1965 to break through much of those still stubbornly and poisonously
petrified wood barriers in the Great Southwest.

Many things have now changed since the "No Indians and Dogs" signs of so
long ago -- but not everything by any means -- and I still walk the streets
of now big places like Flag with very strange and often alienated feelings.
I always watch my back -- as I walk ahead.

So it's good, very good, to see these winds rising high.

Hunter [Hunterbear]

American Indian Vote Being Courted

Filed at 4:30 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ignored in elections for generations, American Indians
are being courted this year in close races in South Dakota and Southwestern

Nationwide, Indians make up just 1.5 percent of the population. But they
tend to be clustered on or near reservations, making their numbers
potentially important in particular districts.

They also could make the difference in a tight Senate race -- in South
Dakota, for example, where there have been major registration drives near
reservations this year.

Two years ago, an Indian group in Washington state, First American Education
Project, bought television ads and rallied Indian voters to help defeat
Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, who had clashed with tribes over
self-governance and mining issues.

Gorton lost by 2,200 votes in a race where 9,000 Indians who had never voted
before cast ballots, says Russ Lehman, director of the group. ``The message
that many Indians got, especially the youth, is that their vote made a
difference,'' he says.

In northeastern Arizona, American Indians make up nearly one in five
voting-age residents in a sprawling district encompassing several

The Democratic House candidate, businessman George Cordova, has shown the
importance of that vote this year, working to organize Indian communities
and stunning two heavy favorites -- former Clinton aide Fred DuVal and Steve
Udall, a member of the West's most prominent political family -- in the
Democratic primary.

Now Cordova and Republican Rick Renzi are both driving dusty roads and
meeting with tribal leaders, attending town meetings and visiting local
gathering places on the reservations. Cordova has learned some Navajo, has
been endorsed by most of the Navajo chapters and has been given an honorary
Navajo name that translates into ``short Mexican,'' says his spokeswoman,
Cindy Jimenez.

Close races in New Mexico's 2nd District between Republican Steve Pearce and
Democrat John Arthur Smith and in Oklahoma's 4th District between former
state Sens. Tom Cole and Darryl Roberts could be swung by the 5 percent of
Indian voters in each district.

The competition for the Indian vote hasn't received as much attention as the
national parties' fight for the support of the rapidly growing Hispanic

But for the nation's Indians, who in generations of elections have been on
the margins, either because of cultural barriers or geographic isolation,
the new campaigns provide an opportunity to assert a role in the electoral
process and potentially make their voice heard in government.

``It doesn't make any difference if it's a Republican or Democratic swing,''
said Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of
American Indians, the nation's largest Indian advocacy organization. ``Now
we're voting and we have a population base that makes a difference. Our
issues need to be listened to and we're paying attention to who's paying
attention to us.''

``What we've learned in the past is you don't have to have huge numbers to
be important,'' said David Magleby, a political science professor at Brigham
Young University, who is leading a study on the American Indian vote in the
2002 race. ``The African American community often looks at the threshold of
about 5 percent, and in a close race if you can show substantial motivation,
you can make a difference.''

By that standard, the American Indian vote could come into play in tossup
races in South Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico and potentially Oklahoma.

Nowhere are the stakes higher than in South Dakota, where Democrats trying
to re-elect Sen. Tim Johnson against Republican Rep. John Thune are
aggressively seeking out Indian voters, who make up 6 percent of the state's
voting-age population.

The state's governor's race and House seat also hang in the balance.

Nearly 24,000 new voters have registered to vote in South Dakota since the
June primary -- nearly 4,000 of those in counties that include or border
Indian reservations.

The efforts were tainted when a woman hired by Democrats to help register
Indian voters was fired and an FBI investigation was begun amid allegations
of forged absentee ballot applications.

The state commissioner of tribal government relations has made a point of
urging Indians to vote all the same, saying he was concerned the controversy
could set back efforts to increase Indian involvement.

``You see, our people ... if things get a little questionable, they
withdraw,'' said Webster Two Hawk. ``And I hope they don't do that, I hope
they just go right on ahead and vote their conscience.''


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