THE BLOG

Playing Both Ends Against the Middle

11/26/2012 11:56 am ET | Updated Jan 26, 2013
  • Tim Giago Founder, Native American Journalists Association

Thankfully we will have a slight respite of two years before the mid-term elections roll around.

It is time for all Native Americans to scrutinize their political affiliations. Have the Democrats or the Republicans fulfilled your political aspirations? Has either Party stood up for your interests?

My answer to both questions is no. With that in mind I decided to separate myself from both parties and I chose to register as an Independent. Every Native American of voting age should make that determination.

In states with large Native American populations the so-called Indian vote can make or break a candidate. There is political clout in that demographic. Is it being utilized for the betterment of the Native American condition? I think not.

If the majority of Indian voters would become registered as Independents neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would take their votes for granted. For too long the Indian vote was presumed to be in the pocket of the Democrats. As a result the Republican Party never made a real effort to court that vote.

If the majority of Native Americans were Independents it would put an entirely new face on the politics of Indian Country. Both major parties would pursue the Native vote with equal vigor.

As an Independent I had the clear choice of voting for the person I decided to be the best qualified candidate. I supported a Republican, Kristi Noem, for the House of Representatives because her opponent, Matt Varilek, a lifetime Democrat who worked under the auspices of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) in the area of economic development, had done absolutely nothing to improve the economic conditions of the nine Indian reservations in South Dakota. He talked a big game but failed to deliver. I believed it was time for a change.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And that is the way it has been for Native Americans. We have been supporting one political party for too many years and yet, in South Dakota at least, we remain among the poorest people in America. Where have the promises of all the Democrats gone?

The Indian Health Service has done such a poor job that the life expectancy of Native Americans is among the lowest in this country. When Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, visited several Indian hospitals in South Dakota she never let the press know where she would be or when. As a result reporters from the local daily newspaper or from the Indian press did not have the opportunity to question her. One member of her entourage let it slip that she did not want the press notified because she was "afraid there would be protestors."

"Afraid there would be protestors?" Now what does that say about the closed-door policies of this administration? The secrecy in the Indian Health Service under Sebelius and Native American Yvette Roubideaux has been stifling. When Ms. Roubideaux visited the Indian Health Service Hospital in Rapid City at the beginning of her term as administrator she refused to allow the press to question her and, indeed, ducked the press entirely.

Now I am talking about Democrats here and I have only touched on their failures in economic development and in health and human services.

When I spoke face-to-face with Sen. Johnson and Varilek in Rapid City recently about economic development neither had a clue about how to provide it. They spoke about the money they had provided to non-profit organizations who in turn were supposed to provide the funds and expertise to expectant Indian entrepreneurs. All one need do is to look at the abysmal records of these organizations to know that they are also absolute failures. Where is the economic development on Indian reservations they were supposed to encourage and provide?

These non-profit economic development organizations are political. Therefore, they cannot or will not assist any business venture headed by one with differing political views. And, as I wrote about in the past, Sen. Johnson is unable to do much for anyone on any Indian reservation since earmarks became passé.

Republicans like Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Kristi Noem (R-SD) are now the people in power. The Native Americans in South Dakota would be fools not to utilize the power and influence of these elected officials. So please stop thinking that the Democrats will bring you manna from heaven. They are no longer in power and in order to move forward you must change your way of thinking.

As an Independent I choose to work with Thune and Noem in any way possible to advance the programs of the Indian tribes and to find ways to provide real economic development on the Indian reservations in South Dakota. That is what is known as common sense. It will be two years before the mid-term elections and the seat of Sen. Johnson will be up for grabs and who is to say that he will not be replaced by a Republican.

So I advise all Indians, especially those in South Dakota, to get on the Independent bandwagon and learn to play both sides against the middle because, after all, both sides have been playing you.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2007. He can be reached at Unitysodak1@knology.net