Friday, January 16, 2009

NYT on Native Americans' complex relationship with Obama

Yesterday's New York Times had an interesting article about American Indian support for Barack Obama. In sum: Indians have been railroaded and slammed by politicians of all stripes for centuries, yet are mostly setting aside their cynicism for Obama. The article quotes notables like Spokane/Coeur d'Alene author Sherman Alexie, NCAI president Joe Garcia, and Navajo Nation president Joe Shirley. Read the whole thing.

In less than a week’s time, the Great White Father will be black. Amidst the euphoria and stirring of fresh ideas, there remains some suspicion. “He’s still a politician and I’m still an Indian,” said Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning writer, a Spokane and Coeur d’Alene native.

“They all look like treaty-makers to me,” said Alexie, paraphrasing the native musician, John Trudell. “I guess that’s the puzzling and I suppose lovely thing about Indians’ love of Obama. Many have suspended their natural suspicion of politicians for him.” ...

The epic struggle for natives has been to avoid getting washed away by the flood of dominant culture, where Indians make up less than 2 percent of more than 300 million Americans. That, and the physical toll that losing this big land has taken on them. Indians die younger than most other Americans, suffer from higher rates of suicide, alcoholism, debilitating dietary problems...

Presidents come and go. They promise to uphold treaty rights and appoint somebody to oversee Indian affairs who understands that history did not end when Custer fell to his hubris. It’s ho-hum, usually, with a mournful shrug on the reservations. But on the most recent Election Day, on the Navajo Rez, which spills into three states and is the size of West Virginia, high school kids held up Obama signs at intersections in the town of Window Rock, and cheered themselves hoarse as returns came in.

Read the whole thing. The article mostly quotes Indians on Obama; the only quote from Obama about Indians is in reference to immigration and doesn't actually address federal Indian policy. For that side of the story, see an Op-Ed by Obama himself in Indian Country Today that focuses mostly on appointments and trust management (sadly nothing on jurisdiction issues), and my own previous post on Obama's Interior Secretary announcement. Indian Country Today has also had extensive coverage of Indian support for Obama; see this pre-election article, this post-election article, and one by former GOP Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell on McCain's downfall with Natives.

2 comments:

Jordan said...

Do you listen to Native America Calling much?

Nathan Empsall said...

Just the five minute Native news summary that precedes it.