Gyasi Ross: Barack Obama's complicated legacy in Indian Country

Former president Barack Obama at the eighth and final White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C., on September 26, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Do you miss Barack Obama already? Gyasi Ross (Blackfeet), the editor at large for Indian Country Today, reflects on the eight years of a historic presidency:
It seems that it is hard for many Native individuals and also Native communities to be objective about President Obama. He was a first in many ways, and it’s painfully difficult to grade “firsts.” There is no standard for firsts. Obviously he was the first black president. But his first-ness goes deeper than that; he was also the first modern presidential candidate to pay so much attention to Native communities and to so explicitly make Natives an integral part of his campaign. Other modern presidents paid some level of attention to Native Nations—Richard Nixon and self-determination, Bill Clinton to a much smaller degree—but never before had a Presidential candidate actually made such an effort to win the Native Vote. He was the first to make a huge amount of promises to Native communities and amongst those was a promise to hold regular meetings with leaders of Native Nations.

Obama is also unquestionably a good human being. That goodness seems to cloud some criticisms. For example, the way he interacts with his brilliant wife or his daughters is amazing; he always seemed to be the adult in the room. He was constantly elegant and the voice of reason even when we disagreed with his substantive decisions. Pawnee attorney Lael Echo-Hawk talks about love for his human-ness, “Obama provided an alternative to the negative portrayal of black and brown men. He is a good man who loves his wife and daughters, not afraid to be “cool,” focused on his work and making the world a better place. Whether you agreed with his methods or deliverables, there is no denial that he was motivated by making a positive change in the lives of the American people…Obama was our regular black guy eating nachos, wearing mom jeans, fist-bumping and playing basketball, while doing the work, spending the time it takes to make thoughtful, reasoned decisions.”

Because of all of those firsts, there is a strong emotional attachment one way or another, “pro” Obama or against Obama. For some, the emotional connection is “He actually paid attention to us and performed on some of the promises he made” and therefore he is above reproach. And then there are those who only focus on Obama’s shortcomings and the promises that he made where he did not come through.

Read More on the Story:
Gyasi Ross: What is Former President Obama’s Legacy Within Native Communities? A Complicated Legacy (Indian Country Today 2/5)

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