Native American Netroots Caucus
July 17, 2008
I wanted to write this diary sooner but I was simply redlining the entire time we were in Austin. There were so many things to do at the same time that it was hard to choose at any given moment.
I was also responsible for another intensive project and that was moderating the photo pool at flickr for the entire convention. My work is done there but the pool will continue to grow as people get home and upload their photos.
Now I can refocus again on our caucus.
The Native American Netroots caucus began on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. I was nervous that no one would show up since many people fly in later that afternoon and I was competing with many other things scheduled at that time. I feel extremely fortunate that we ended up with about 16 participants. I was completely pleased with all of their contributions. I felt it was our most productive caucus since we started 3 years ago in Las Vegas.
I briefly introduced myself (you can find a more detailed account of my background as an assimilated Indian here.) and I urged everyone to please help me grow this blog; as they encounter folks in other blogs who care about our people to please encourage them to join and contribute with diaries and comments.
Our next topic was the Quilt project by Rain and Loggersbrat at Street Prophets. They have been doing this project since Las Vegas and this year the focus of the quilt is Native American Netroots blogger’s signatures. Loggersbrat brought patches for everyone to sign. Rain is working on the legalities of raffling or auctioning off this quilt on the internet and then we at Native American Netroots can decide what to do with the proceeds. The ideas currently are helping with a “wiring” a rez project and/or helping a NDN candidate. Comment below with your suggestions. These funds won’t be available until next year. Rain and I are going to have the quilt blessed. I have also taken on the project of mailing patches, special pens and return envelopes to bloggers who could not attend Netroots Nation 2008. Dengre, Carter Camp and Meteor Blades come to mind.
Star Quilt: here it is, pinned to the design wall. Each diamond has muslin in it for signing. It won’t look so shaggy when it is sewn together. The background will be shades of dark blue.
Last year, YearlyKos Scholarship recipient Kevin Killer attended our caucus and I was so pleased to announce that:
Kevin Killer won his primary!
Kevin Killer, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, hometown Pine Ridge, SD, is a candidate for the State House of Representatives District 27 in South Dakota. Kevin also attended the 2007 INDN Campaign Camp, where our entire staff and trainers from across the country paid attention to this young rising star. He has organized for many progressive campaigns, and we’re sure his experience will pay off in his own race.
Keep track at http://www.indnslist.org/
We wish him luck in November and in my handouts was a reference to http://www.indnslist.org/ where you can be aware of all Native American candidates running for public office.
Someone commented that many people on the rez will only vote if the candidate is Native American. A goal to have more NDNs run is a good one.
Next I wanted to open up a round table discussion of our issues this year. Each year I have asked for input about what to discuss and this year I received some of the best input ever and that is what I used for our agenda.
I am referring to original AIM organizer Carter Camp who lives on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota. His personal knowledge of life on the rez, politics and organizing are priceless to our group.
Below are excerpts from his suggestions:
Very few Democrats recognize the part native voters play in western politics where we are often the swing vote between parties. The fact we live on or near our reservation homelands puts us all together in certain districts giving our votes a powerful concentration. Even in states where we’re not as numerous this pattern gives us clout in districts on or near a rez. Also our people aren’t registered in the numbers they could be or should be. Therefore if the party were to put some money and effort into voter registration in ndn country it would pay big dividends.
Indian Country politics are diffuse and centered around tribes and the surrounding legal and lobbying community that our efforts generate. Whole law firms specialize in ndn law and politics. They have a lot of influence along with various Congressional aides and Department under secretaries etc. who guard the purse strings in DC. It’s an enormous industry but largely unknown unless one has to deal with it. Now with gaming it’s even larger. Did you know that every Department in the Government must have an “Indian Desk” to serve our Tribes? I’m just telling you these things so you’ll know how pervasive Indian affairs are within this government. We’re all over the place!
Republicans have always seen our pitiful budgets as the easy place to cut funds. Reagan devastated funding for ndn country and we have never caught up. The IHS is so underfunded it costs lives every day. Same with our education funds and reservation schools. Housing is so bad on the rez that it’s common to see three or four families living together. Plus what we have is falling apart through neglect and age. America’s poorest counties are always reservation counties like Shannon County or Todd County here in S.D. they fight to see who will be the worst, poorest county in America year after year. I guess in the end most of our problems are directly tied to the endemic poverty we face. The only solution America has is to become economic refugees and leave our homelands and people. Many have done so but to the rest of us that’s a solution we reject as genocide.
This fall GOTV will be very important but first we need to get our people registered and motivated to vote. Frankly most of us don’t give a shit about wasicu politics. It takes a lot of convincing to get out the vote on the rez plus the regular old methods won’t work, they’ve been tried many times. A voter registration drive that is based on our culture might work but it hasn’t been tried.
By using our culture I mean things like going to dances with contests and adding prize money if the winner has a voter registration card, but actually participating in the celebration also. Or by utilizing the twenty district chapters, where the local politics really happens, to register each district. Plus the district chair and leaders know where everyboody lives which is no small deal in these wide open spaces. Many ndn homes have several adults living there who won’t admit it to strangers while someone they know would have no problem. Things like that could vastly increase our power in politics here.
I spoke with a Navajo attorney today who represents this tribe in DC for a major law firm. She spoke about how the South Dakota delegation is the best at providing earmarks for Indian projects while the Arizona tribes hate McCain because he won’t earmark any of their projects. The explanation of course is that Senator Johnson and our single Congresswoman Herseth-Sandlin both owe their election in a red state to the native vote and they make no bones about it. We’re 9% of the electorate here and most elections are decided by less than that. We might turn this state blue if we voted in numbers. Same with Oklahoma where we’re 8-9% too. But it would take lots of dough and so far no one’s done it.
My take away from his comments are:
1. the fact that many reservations have the percentages to be swing voters
2. the GOTV on the rezs has not been properly conducted
3. See above again for specific suggestions about GOTV on the rez
I gave this information to my contact in the Barack Obama campaign and he is going to give it to the field directors in the states that have reservations.
Another point was brought up by someone that registering is one thing but that getting rez residents to return to polling places is often very difficult. Requesting absentee ballots at the time of registering would help here.
Carter Camp also requested that we not forget about Leonard Peltier. I made a handout with the following information:
Mr. Peltier’s committee has gone through one of its periodic revamps and is now being run by his family on the rez in North Dakota. It’s been thirty long years since his mistrial and he is far over the guidelines for parole in an aiding & abetting conviction. The FBI has been successful in their campaign against him. Once his case was known throughout the world but all attempts failed to get justice for him. Now he’s old news and younger native people barely know his name. This is to remind you that a brave warrior is still paying the price for our struggle for sovereignty in the sixties and seventies. –Carter Camp
Friends of Peltier
This is being sent on behalf of firstname.lastname@example.org
June 26 was the 33rd anniversary of the firefight at the Jumping Bull property on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The LP DOC will represent Leonard at the annual Little Big Horn National Monument event in Montana, as well as the Oglala Commemoration in South Dakota. We’re
also helping participants in the Longest Walk II mark the day by sending t-shirts and other materials their way.
Due to the political nature of the Peltier case, a high level of public awareness is critical if we’re to succeed in obtaining Leonard’s release.
Here’s some of the things you can do to educate your community about the Peltier case:
— Set up literature tables at events/public places. Download literature at [see URL on first page] and don’t forget our petitions and sample resolution which you can locate on our main menu.
— Plan showings of electronic media. While “Incident at Oglala” is out of print, copies still in circulation are often available for purchase from Amazon.com, eBay, etc., and VHS and DVD copies are available to rent in many rental outlets. Amazon.com also offers a downloadable, low-cost digital version. We also strongly recommend “Warrior,” on VHS. Order online through
Native Videos at http://www.nativevideos.com/wa…
— Write letters to editors of local newspapers, encourage community television stations to highlight the case, and place calls to radio
call-in shows. Express your opinions and educate others.
— Hold book readings featuring “My Life Is My Sun Dance” by Leonard Peltier.
If you’re planning an event, please let us know. We’ll be happy to add the information you provide to our calendar of events and otherwise promote your event in any way we can.
Thank you for all you do on Leonard’s behalf.
Betty Ann Peltier-Solano
Time to set him free… Because it is the RIGHT thing to do.
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We had many important comments. I asked all of the attendees to please join our blog and comment under this diary and write about their comments that they made in our caucus session.
A local blogger, Susan Van Haitsma came to our caucus and here is her post at Austin American Statesman:
First Nation Netroots
First thing Thursday morning at Netroots was a Native American Netroots caucus. The session was facilitated by Neeta Lind, a Navajo woman living in the San Francisco Bay area. Lind said that she hadn’t been politically active until the 2000 election, but since then, she’s been blogging with a passion as navajo at Native American Netroots and on the site of the San Francisco Kossacks, a group that formed about two years ago and now hosts about 300 active bloggers.
I asked Lind how it felt to meet bloggers in person after knowing them only through their online personas. She said that when the SF Kossacks held their first meet-up, “people were jumping over each other” in excitement.
Those sentiments certainly were evident throughout the convention center as well. There were animated conversations all around, and people seemed exhilarated to be meeting and talking. And while I expected bloggers to be typing away on keyboards or cell phones during the caucuses and panels, I only saw a bit of that. Almost all participants were focused and attentive to the discussions at hand.
I was curious about internet use on the rez. How accessible was it, and was it an effective organizing tool? Caucus participants felt that providing internet access on the rez was a positive goal, though poverty is a very real barrier. One man said, “In Pine Ridge (SD), the people couldn’t afford a computer even if they had wi-fi.” Another man suggested that, as in Africa, the rez could become telephonized so that computers wouldn’t be as necessary, especially considering the remoteness of many households and the ruggedness of the terrain.
Caucus participants noted that voter turnout on the rez can be boosted through combining voter registration with other regular tribal functions such as dances and food distribution days. Lind said that she would like to have at least one online contact on every reservation.
The primary reason cited by folks in the room for low voter turnout on the rez was disillusionment with politicians who have consistently ignored them. Some candidates in districts adjoining reservations simply do not venture there to campaign. Indns (blog speech) need representatives who know them. The best solution, said Lind, would be “Native Americans running for office. That’s how we’re going to change things.”
Thanks Susan for the nice write up!