By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© 2008 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc
September 10, 2008
What is it about the word "undecided" that self-professed liberals find so hard to understand?
Although the word cannot be found in my Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, which is probably obsolete by now, I think it means that I "have not made up my mind."
A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was disappointed that Barack Obama did not choose Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate and his choice of Sen. Joe Biden threw my choices into the column of "undecided." I think my concerns were elevated when Senator John S. McCain chose a woman, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, as his running mate. This choice by McCain seems to have thrown the Obama camp into a tizzy. The mistake not to choose Hillary was Obama's and McCain's brilliant choice of Gov. Palin is reflected in the leap forward he has made in the national polls.
After my column appeared across this great country I was suddenly inundated with email I will simply call "hate mail." Some called me "stupid," and others used even stronger language. I thought, my gosh, all I suggested was that I am "undecided," and I certainly believed that this indecisiveness did not call for such venom and vindictiveness.
I began to get email with a long list of charges against Gov. Palin much of it totally without merit. Many of the false charges labeled Gov. Palin as "anti-Indian." However, most of the email from Native Americans failed to mention a most pertinent fact; Gov. Palin's husband, Todd, has a grandmother from Bristol Bay who is a member of the Yup'ik Tribe of Alaska. Palin's daughter, Bristol, was named after the land of her father's ancestors. All of Palin's children were home-schooled on many of the beliefs and practices of the Yup'ik people out of respect for their indigenous great grandmother.
All of that may be neither here nor there, but it clearly points out that this election has turned into a very personal one for the Indian people of America. Let's try to look at this entire situation with an open mind. There is a question that is asked more often than not of late by several Indian Republicans: What has the Democratic Party done for you lately?
Too often Democrats, and I used to be one before I decided to become an Independent, look to their party as their saviors and more often than not, they have been disappointed, but they keep voting as Democrats. Consider this; one of the most important pieces of Indian legislation in the past 100 years, Public Law 93-638, the Indian Education and Self-Determination Act, came under a Republican president; Richard Nixon. The Sacred Blue Lake of the Taos Pueblo was returned to that tribe against fierce opposition from the white ranchers of that region under the Nixon Administration. Giving land back to the Indians? Unheard of until then.
Native Americans should be very cautious about aligning themselves with any one political party. Too often bills intended to help the Indian nations are decided or denied by both parties and bipartisanship becomes more realistic in close votes when one party or the other has not been under attack by the Indian leadership. If we (Indians) continue to bash the Republican Party we cannot expect that this Party will step up to the plate for favorable Indian legislation. A good example of bipartisanship is Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota. Sen. Thune has made it a major issue of his political agenda to work with the Indian tribes in his state. He has listened to their concerns and has stepped forward with legislation designed to assist them.
Native Americans cannot continue to put all of their political eggs into one basket. It should go without saying that Indian issues have seldom been placed on the front burner by either political party. But by constantly attacking the Republicans and favoring the Democrats, the Indian people have cut their chances of favorable legislation in half.
The fastest growing segment of political affiliations in America are the Independents and it is this group that will decide who will become the next president of the United States. With Indian healthcare, housing, gaming, and even the transfer of land back to the Indian nations at stake, it is imperative that all clear thinking Native Americans rethink their political affiliations and strongly consider becoming Independent voters.
I am still "undecided" and indigenous members of the Democratic Party will not move me to their side by attacking me with filth for remaining an "undecided" voter. If anything, you are pushing me evermore into the corner of John McCain and Sarah Palin.
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association and the founder and publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times, and the Dakota/Lakota Journal. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at email@example.com)