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Politics
Tribe's endorsement of Clark a criticism of Dean


Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark on Monday won the endorsement of a tribe in Vermont that battled rival Howard Dean when he was the state's governor.

Abenaki Nation leaders praised Clark, a retired Army general, for his Indian policy. Chief April Rushlow said he supports tribal sovereignty and will work to improve health care, education and economic development for Native Americans.

"For too long, politicians have made big promises to Indian Country and failed to deliver," Rushlow said. "We need and deserve more than promises. In Wes Clark, we have found a leader whom we can trust."

Clark, campaigning yesterday in New Hampshire, met with Abenaki leaders and welcomed their support. "American Indians in general and the Abenaki in particular deserve a higher standard of leadership," he said. "I am deeply humbled by the endorsement of the Abenakis and Chief Rushlow. And I will not let them down."

Others in Indian Country have heaped similar accolades on Clark. The Native American Times, an independent newspaper published in Oklahoma and New Mexico, and Brian Wallace, chairman of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, have endorsed Clark as he and the other candidates head into some of the early party primaries next week.

The latest endorsement isn't likely to lead to a big boost in Clark's campaign. But for Abenaki leaders, it is a sign of their dissatisfaction with Dean, who as governor of the state, opposed their bid to gain state and federal recognition and the benefits that come with it.

Laura Harris, a spokesperson for the Dean campaign, didn't deny Dean's views on the issue. She said they were based on his personal opposition to gambling.

"His fear at the time was that [state recognition] would bring the Abenakis closer to federal recognition and the right to introduce the idea of gaming in the state of Vermont," said Harris, who is the daughter of Comanche leader LaDonna Harris, the co-chair of Dean's Native American advisory committee.

But Harris was quick to add that Dean, as president, supports the $14.5 billion Indian gaming industry, which has created jobs and opportunities throughout the country. "He will protect the right of federally recognized tribes where it's legal and where they've entered into compacts," she said.

For the Abenakis, gaming is the furthest thing from their minds. Tribal leaders petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for federal recognition in 1982. They say education, health care and land are their top priorities.

The tribe is considered "ready" for consideration by BIA researchers who examine historical, genealogical, anthropological and other evidence. But at least a dozen other petitions are ahead of the Abenakis. It could take up to a decade before the tribe receives an answer.

According to officials in Vermont, the answer should be no. After Dean left office, the state's attorney general told the BIA the tribe didn't meet the requirements for federal status. Harris said Dean favors a "fair federal recognition process" at the Department of Interior.

Clark and Dean were among the candidates who spoke to the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) last November. Both said they are committed to tribal sovereignty and would work to improve the lives of Native Americans.

In a follow-up with members of the media, Clark, who has never held political office, added that he would "use the bully pulpit" to encourage state governments to cooperate with tribes. "I think we need a new atmosphere in terms of working with the local tribes and I'll do my best to promote it," he said.

Dean's involvement with Indian issues has come back to haunt him. As governor, he supported a Congressional bill that would have forced state taxation on individual Indians and tribes. He has since repudiated that view and pledged to veto similar legislation a president.

Relevant Links:
Abenaki Nation - http://www.abenakination.org