Unprecedented Native American Presence at Democratic National Convention

With a record number of 87 delegates to the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Native Americans from all over are gearing up for their swing vote potential in the upcoming presidential election. They hold key populations in the swing states of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Washington, Alaska, and North and South Dakota. The Kerry campaign seems to be paying some attention. The Democratic platform includes statements like, “We honor the sovereignty of American Indians and reaffirm our commitment to respectful and meaningful government-to-government relations.”

On July 27, two Tohono O’odham youth, Michael Enis and Alicia Childs, sang the Star-Spangled Banner in their native tongue via satellite. Members of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) showed up to lobby, and also plan to do so at the Republican National Convention.

The North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB) and the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe hosted the delegates for a traditional clam bake and lobster fest one sunny afternoon. Delegates and volunteers sported stickers that read “Native Americans for Kerry,” and “I’m Indian and I Vote” pins distributed by the National Congress of American Indians’ non-partisan Get Out the Native Vote campaign. Speakers included Frank LaMere of the Winnebego tribe, Chairman of the Native American Caucus and one of four native Democratic National Committee members. LaMere expressed that while some of his friends criticized the electoral process as “that white man thing,” he saw his and others’ involvement as, “no frivolous exercise, but something that has been earned for us by young native men and women not even old enough to vote who are fighting wars and defending our rights.”

Casey Brownbear, a student at the University of Wisconson at Madison, said, “We need to get more young people involved in the political process. I learned at a very young age that we don’t have a choice—we are political entities—we don’t have a choice, but we do have a voice.”