We've proved that we can turn out Indians to elect non-Indians. Now we need to turn out non-Indians to elect Indians.''
- Kalyn Free
In all regions, some good news emerges, some good work that makes learning possible and advances the future potentials of American Indian peoples:
Arms open at Syracuse University
Kudos and salutations this week to Syracuse University in central New York, in recognition of its willingness to back up its good words with great deeds. This quality university recently stepped up to the plate on Indian education, inviting all students of merit among the peoples of the Haudenosaunee to enroll at school there - all expenses paid. This signal is clear and apparently without private agenda. As a result, it has quickly become a source of hope for many a bright Haudenosaunee student within the United States and Canada. While other universities in the region have had vigorous American Indian programs, none has approached this unprecedented and generous outreach decision to the Native communities by SU.
Seneca attorney and professor Robert Odawi Porter, a guiding hand in SU's enlivened commitment to Six Nations students, is conducting a series of open forums with Haudenosaunee academics and community leaders at the university. Reminiscent of the open forums on Indian/New York state taxation issues and conflicts held at Cornell University in the late 1990s, in which Porter played a prominent role, a recent SU forum pondered the huge change of fortune in land claims litigation which was nearly decapitated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year. We commend the effort to involve the Native intellectual and leadership circles in service to the communities.
Indian Country Today correspondent Tom Wanamaker reported that Angie Barnes, grand chief of the elected Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, brought this bit of perspective to the assembly: The contemporary siege is ''more insidious than in the past.'' Barnes noted that divisions within the greater Mohawk community hurt the people as a whole. ''Elected councils are seen as repressors of traditional councils,'' she said. ''We have to discuss this relationship. The original Haudenosaunee Confederacy likely took decades to sort out [when it was first formed]. We need to do this again [through] discussion on all the territories.''
A whole lot of positive, clear-thinking energy is required at a time when the assertion of tribal economic and political power can bring the racists out of their cellars. Taking up the challenge of producing respectful, open forums, where Native minds can meet and ponder their common future, regardless of past divisions, is a commendable direction.
Wind energy of the Plains
Another commendable direction is the current of work on alternative energy futures by tribal and other collaborators in the northern Great Plains. As reported by ICT's David Melmer on Nov. 18, a ''most unlikely partnership between tribes and cities may be in the offing, and the connection could go a long way toward saving the environment by providing clean and renewable energy.''
The occasion was a Native Renewable Energy Summit, held in Denver Nov. 15 - 17, where the tribes and urban activists brainstormed ''for ways in which the cities and tribes can partner to achieve their individual goals.'' The intention was to stimulate practical moves ''toward a cleaner environment while overcoming pitfalls and generating economic opportunities.''
As ''cities ... have pledged to reduce their dependence on carbon-producing power ... tribes could lead the way by showing their commitment to clean air and water, and creating the potential to expand the distribution of power,'' wrote Melmer. The plan hopes to enlist clients from among the 180 energy-conscious cities across the country that have agreed to participate in the principles of the Kyoto Protocol for fighting global warming and climate change. Apparently three cities - Boulder, Colo., Aspen, Colo. and Seattle, Wash. - are exploring partnerships with tribes.
The stimulating dialogue follows years of planning and activity by tribes and energy-systems visionaries, among whom Robert Gough, secretary of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, is commendable for his experienced enthusiasm. In particular, the pilot efforts to generate wind-turbine energy systems on the Rosebud Reservation have led the way. The region provides various prime ''corridors'' for wind energy production, and thus a very exciting and potentially successful proposition is growing that could ultimately include all of the reservation communities in the Plains region.
Kudos to the thinkers and shakers in the Plains Indian circles who are instigating these wonderful directions. They deserve attention, support and emulation.
Opening the body politic
Indians are establishing their presence at various political levels. Democrat or Republican, Green or otherwise independent, we encourage all extension of Indian experience into all potential avenues to empowerment.
Kudos and salutations this round go out to Kalyn Free, who lost a congressional election last year but has gone on to found INDN's List (Indigenous Democratic Network), an organization to recruit and train Indian candidates for state and local office. As ICT Associate Editor Jim Adams recently reported, INDN's List - modeled somewhat on the famed ''Emily's List,'' which supports female candidates - launched with a resounding assembly, materializing an excellent circle of Native political activists and leaders.
A Choctaw and longtime active Democrat, Free and her network brought in Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee chairman, and other luminaries, including political commentator Al Franken, to address the new group in Minneapolis in October. Three Democratic congressmen, Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota, James Oberstar of Minnesota and Mike Honda of California, joined Dean in the learning and teaching dialogue with tribal leaders and council members.
From all reports, the meeting resonated with strategic information and the potential for enlightened partnerships. Dan Jones, chairman of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, one of the more than 200 people from 50 tribal nations at INDN's inaugural Campaign Camp, captured the mood: ''For years tribal nations have been flexing our political muscle through the economic support of candidates as a means to influence local state and national politics ... It is now time to elect our own,'' Jones said, as reported by Gordon Reguinti of The Circle. ''It's a brilliant and clever way for Native tribes to utilize their new found wealth to benefit all Native people.''
Glenn Crooks, vice chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which hosted the gathering, acknowledged Dean's leadership in reaching out to Indian country with such determination. Many others as well worked to make this invigorating process possible. But it is least difficult to appreciate the energy of Free's vision. Her persistence has opened a wider space for American Indian issues in Democratic Party circles.
Dean recently appointed Free to the DNC. Congratulations. We salute and celebrate Free's effort to open a stronger beachhead for Indian representation in American political life.