Dean serves up Indian Country agenda at NCAI
Thursday, November 20, 2003

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean told tribal leaders on Wednesday that he would promote tribal sovereignty, settle the Indian trust fund lawsuit and ensure tribes participate in homeland security efforts.

Dean, former governor of Vermont, was the last of six Democratic hopefuls to address the 60th annual National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) conference. He was received enthusiastically by the delegates, who packed the downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, convention center yesterday morning.

What they heard was not all that different from the rest of the presidential crowd. All the candidates have stressed their support for tribal sovereignty, treaty rights and a strong trust relationship.

Dean, however, had a bit of a hurdle to clear. Before launching into his platform speech, he cleared up what he said was misinformation being spread by a rival campaign.

"I don't personally like gaming," he told NCAI. "But under long-established rules ... sovereign Indian nations have a right to economic self-determination, and if they chose Indian gaming as a way of doing that, I will fully support that."

The comments provided the backdrop for what Dean said was his philosophy. His presidency will help Americans help themselves, he said.

"The essence of our campaign is empowering people," he said.

That means ensuring American Indians and Alaska Natives have the same access and opportunities as everyone else. "The truth is that we all share a common agenda," he told the tribal delegates. "Every American needs better health care, every American needs better education opportunities, every American needs economic determination."

Dean did bring some specific action items for Indian Country. He said he would increase the profile of tribal nations within the White House office that handles inter-governmental affairs. Native people will hold positions in the office, he said.

Dean also promised to settle the Cobell trust fund lawsuit "within the first two years of my administration." "The facts are not in dispute," he said. "The United States' government made enormous, and in some cases deliberate, errors in estimating the amount of money held in trust."

Dean echoed comments made by other candidates and said Indian Country needs to be at the table in fighting terrorism. Tribes have been left out of the billion-dollar homeland security push, he told NCAI.

"We need to fix that relationship so that we can both protect tribal sovereignty and the needs of the United States," he said.

Dean's full Indian policy and platform can be found at his website, located at ( He has a Native American advisory committee, which is co-chaired by former Cherokee Nation principal chief Wilma Mankiller and LaDonna Harris, the Comanche woman who founded Americans for Indian Opportunity. Harris introduced Dean to the NCAI delegates yesterday.

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians -

Related Stories:
Abenaki chief wants NCAI to know Dean's record (11/20)
Democrat presidential hopefuls eye Indian voters (11/18)
NCAI kicks off annual convention in N.M. (11/17)
NCAI holding 60th annual convention in N.M. (11/14)

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