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DORREEN YELLOW BIRD: Do American Indians need their own party?

An interesting idea is being raised by Tim Giago; a South Dakota columnist and prominent American Indian writer. He suggests creating a Native American Party.

An interesting idea is being raised by Tim Giago; a South Dakota columnist and prominent American Indian writer. He suggests creating a Native American Party.

The idea is not necessarily that American Indians have candidates run for office like the Green or Libertarian parties, but that the new party would put the Republicans and Democrats off balance, so to speak.

In the past, Giago said, the Republican Party ignored Indian people because they knew we voted Democratic. The Democrats, for their part, took us for granted because we were a done deal; we always vote Democrat.

He has an idea -- something to chew on. So, here are some questions: What are the advantages for Indian people to put themselves into such a small group? And we are a small group, when you compare the American Indian voting population to the population of, say, Hispanic or black voters. They have large and powerful voting blocks.

Wouldn't following Giago's suggestion dilute our voting bloc, which has been the swing vote in some state elections?


And who is Giago, anyway, and why should we be listening to him? That question, I can answer: Giago has earned the status he holds as a journalist. He's taken his lumps and has stood up to some of the most powerful people in South Dakota, and the cause usually was for the betterment of Indian people. I have admired his stands most of the time; and yes, we also disagree from time to time.

Giago is the former publisher of Indian Country Today, the Lakota Times and the Dakota/Lakota Journal. His columns appear regularly in Indian newspapers, on national wires and online sites including Indianz.com. I've known him for many years and see him at conferences, and we meet at times on stages or platforms as speakers.

He is probably the best known American Indian journalist.

I always take his suggestions to heart -- but a new Native American Party? I need more convincing. In his recent column, Giago suggested that American Indians read or see only one side -- the Democratic view. For my part, I read both liberal and conservative opinions almost daily. I try to watch a mix of news view too. I don't think I'm alone, so I also don't think Indian people narrowly focus on just Democratic views.

Most of the time -- and I repeat, most of the time -- Democratic ideals have helped our causes, although there were some Republican presidents such as Richard Nixon who have helped us, too.

But just because a candidate supports our cause is not a good enough reason to support him or her. American Indians are, after all, a part of the U.S., and although we consider our families, communities and tribes first, we still consider what is best for the nation as a whole. That's my thinking.

I smiled to myself when Giago wrote that we should be independent voters, because I always thought I was.

It was only a few years ago that I realized I must be Democrat because I kept hearing that I was. Not so many years ago, I considered myself Independent. (I still like that title even though it may not fit).


I have voted for Democrats, Republicans, even some Green Party candidates in years past. Isn't that being independent?

When it comes to seeing myself as a supporter of one side or the other, there are times when I can hardly find a difference in the candidates once they get in power. The shenanigans they indulge in aren't limited to one side.

But what I do like about most Democrats is that they seem to have heart. Their views generally are about people and the needs of the underdog -- and most of the time that includes American Indians.

I don't like the parties that say American Indians need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or that "those people" are given everything for free, which takes away their initiative to better themselves. Those are stereotypes based on some people's limited experience with American Idians.

We aren't a big voting bloc, but as candidates are beginning to realize, a tribe can change the direction of an election. We are coming into our own.

How we organize to influence the system is important, and that's why I think Giago's suggestion needs a second look.

What I'm looking for in a candidate is a good person dedicated to the people he or she serves and can win an election without buying it or selling his or her soul to get it. That's more important than party.

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