Indian delegates turn out for Republican convention

The Republican Party opened its convention in New York City on Monday night as a handful of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian delegates looked on.

There isn't a firm count of the number of Native Americans attending the Republican National Convention this week. But several key states, including New Mexico, Arizona and South Dakota, have at least one Native person on the roster.

John Gonzales, former governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico and former president of the National Congress of American Indians, is representing his state and the GOP with pride. He is joined by Sharon Clahchischilliage, a member of the Navajo Nation who heads the tribe's Washington, D.C., office.

NCAI helped bring together the Native delegates at the convention, a role the non-partisan organization also played for the Democrat Party last month. Gonzales said about 30 people representing the Mashantucket Pequot, Pechanga, Morongo, Nez Perce and Chickasaw tribes attended the ad-hoc Native American Caucus.

"We had a good turnout," Gonzales said on the radio program Native America Calling yesterday.

Dan Lewis, a member of the Navajo Nation, is Arizona's sole Native delegate. He attended his first convention in Philadelphia in 2000, when then-candidate George W. Bush was first nominated.

"I'm one of the many minority members of the Arizona delegation," Lewis said on the program. He said the state's delegation has about 20 percent minorities, mostly African-American and Hispanic.

Gonzales and Lewis participated in the discussion of the party platform, which was adopted yesterday. It includes a promise to strengthen self-determination by "respecting tribal sovereignty, encouraging economic development on reservations, and working with them to reorganize the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service."

"We uphold the unique government-to-government relationship between the tribes and the United States and honor our nation's trust obligations to them," the platform states.

"Native American issues, they really are non-partisan issues," said Lewis.

Bruce Whalen, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, is an alternate delegate at the convention. He has been working in his state to try and persuade more Natives to join the GOP.

"There's a lot of Republicans out there," Whalen said in an interview. "They just don't know it yet. Our values line up more similar to the Republican Party."

Whalen cited smaller government, more accountability and a greater focus on the family as ideals of the Lakota people that match the GOP. "We need to start raising our Republicans instead of recruiting them when they turn 18," he said in the interview.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), a long-time advocate for Indian issues, addressed the convention last night but did not mention tribal governments. He and other speakers instead stressed Bush's role in the war against terrorism.

In July, the Democratic National Convention drew a record 87 Native American delegates. The Republican party has not stated how many Natives are attending but said that 17 percent are minorities, up from 10 percent in 2000. Gonzales said nearly half of the New Mexico delegation is minority.

Holly Baker, a Native Hawaiian delegate from Hawaii, said she didn't know how many Natives were at the convention. "I have seen a few but they are far and few in between," she said on the radio program yesterday.

Baker said there are three reasons Native Americans should vote for Bush. She said the Republicans support conservative values, self-sufficiency and are working to strengthen educational and economic opportunities for Native people.

The convention runs through Thursday. The ad-hoc Native American caucus was scheduled to meet again today.

Republican Party Platform:
Native American Section | A Safer World and a More Hopeful America

Relevant Links:
Republican National Convention - http://gopconvention.com
Democratic National Convention - http://www.dems2004.org