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Tim Giago: Playing the race and gender game in American politics

Filed Under: Opinion | Politics
More on: democrats, donald trump, elections, gender, race, racism, republicans, tim giago

Tribal citizens and their allies rally in front of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., on March 10, 2017, as part of the Native Nations Rise event. Photo by Indianz.Com / More on Flickr

Notes from Indian Country
Playing the race and gender game in politics
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji – Stands Up For Them)

Most of us have surmised by now that the 2016 Presidential Election was more about race and gender than about who would make the better president.

After 8 years of having a Black president a majority of the white voters openly rebelled and with the Nation’s ongoing wars between whites and blacks and “Black Lives Matter” hogging all of the headlines, it was only a matter of time

It started to turn ugly during the last year of Obama’s presidency. Some rightwing blogs even started to refer to the White House as the “Monkey House.” And one white lady emailed a friend in reference to Michelle Obama saying she was tired of that “that ape in high heels.” These comments go even beyond racism and ugly.

The so-called “working class” fell for all of the racist and gender attacks on Hillary Clinton and turned out to vote in larger numbers than have gone to the polls in decades. In essence it was a white rebellion and unfortunately the racial minorities in this country were blindsided and failed to turn out to support the Democratic Party. Even the large number of Democrats on the Indian reservations failed to turn out in numbers. Fake news generated from around the world aimed at defeating Hillary and the Russian cyber-attacks on the Democratic Party that in turn were turned over to WikiLeaks did further damage.

The white population sees their once all mighty majority gradually diminishing. In 50 years they will be in the minority. This is a frightening prospect to them perhaps because they fear they will be treated the same way they have treated the minority population all of these years. And as a result the Democratic Party, the original party that has always been a champion for the working class and minorities finds itself on the losing end of elections all over America. Most of the state houses and governorships are filled by Republicans. And as the party in power they can gerrymander voting districts in such a way that they can remain in power forever.

The majority of American Indians are Democrats for a reason. They were given the right to vote in 1924, the year they became U. S. citizens, and just a few short years before Franklin D. Roosevelt became president. This country was also in the midst of the Great Depression. Roosevelt formed the WPA, Works Progress Administration, and the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, in the 1930s and for the first time in history work projects began to spring up on Indian reservations. Bridges, roads, government buildings and school houses were constructed on Indian lands largely with the physical labor of Indian men and women. In a place where poverty was so prevalent it was almost considered the norm all of a sudden there were jobs and those jobs came about because of FDR, a Democratic president.

And all of these new found jobs started to happen just as Indians were finally welcomed to their own country as citizens. It seems only natural that armed with the power to vote they would immediately support the one party that was making the most difference in their lives.

Perhaps this surge to the right is a one-time phenomenon and the ship of America will right itself to the center again once Americans discover that they were cajoled into voting for Donald Trump largely with smoke and mirrors. When the promised jobs in manufacturing fail to materialize and the new trade laws severely impact ranchers and farmers unable to sell their cattle and crops to foreign countries stifles their ability to trade, reality will begin to emerge.

At one time I advocated for all Native Americans to become Independent voters because neither party was addressing or even trying to understand the complex issues facing Indians. The extreme diverse conditions even within our own Nations is perplexing to most white Americans. While some Indian Nations are rolling in wealth because of the luck of geography others are still the poorest of the poor in America. If your Indian lands happen to be near a metropolitan area your casino can make you wealthy, but if you are located in a sparsely populated area your casinos will barely survive.

And for the most part, those wealthy Indian tribes will become so enamored of the almighty dollar that its accumulation will become their main focus. Extend a helping hand to the poorer tribes of America? Forget about that. But you can bet your bottom dollar that they will still continue to get their federal dollars for health, education, housing and welfare with little or no regard for those tribes that need it much, much more.

Perhaps it is time to turn our clocks back to the days of FDR and throw our support once more to the Democratic Party. Except that this time, rather than being outside observers, perhaps it is time for Native Americans to become inside participants. This nation was nearly 150 years old before it even recognized Indians as citizens of the land that was once theirs. In some states like Arizona, New Mexico and South Dakota we have the numbers to make a difference. It’s time we united behind those numbers and made that difference.

Native Americans are the fastest growing race in South Dakota for instance and the white population doesn’t even realize it. And yet South Dakota lists its unemployment rate as the third lowest in America with a 2.9 percent unemployment rate. Once again, smoke and mirrors! If those numbers included the thousands of Indians that are unemployed in South Dakota that rate would grow to be one of the Nation’s highest. Is this unemployment rate based on race or numbers?

I surmise that in the world of politics, what used to be a numbers game is now a race and gender game. So let’s all go back to the Party of Roosevelt and turn it back into a game of numbers.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He can be reached at

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