Congressional Quarterly magazine reports that while American Indians have commanded little attention in Washington D.C. over the years, the have steadily and quietly been building new clout on Capitol Hill.
Increasing tribal funds, including gaming profits for some tribal governments, as well as the shifting electoral landscape, have helped American Indians wield a growing influence in the past three election cycles.
In American politics, it looks like influence comes in two ways: having a significant amount of money to donate or by generating a significant number of voters.
Many tribal governments can do both of these: so naturally, tribal political clout should be strong in the United States.
The votes of American Indians are credited recently with helping at least two Democrats defeat incumbent Republican U.S. Senators. In 2006, Jon Tester ousted Conrad Burns in part by campaigning in Indian country. Increased tribal voter registration may have aided Al Franken’s 312-vote victory in Minnesota over Norm Coleman last year, which helped give the Senate Democratic Caucus its much-coveted 60-vote majority.
American Indians are now in position, for the first time in decades, to make demands on Congress and the administration to address long-neglected problems in tribal communities where, as recently as nine years ago, 12 percent of reservation homes lacked adequate plumbing.
Analysts also say point to the defeat in 2000 of Sen. Slade Gorton, a Washington Republican who was regarded by many American Indians as having weakened their sovereignty. Analysts also credit votes from the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation with helping South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson keep his Senate seat in 2002.
Beyond providing margins in critical races, American Indians have sharply increased their contributions to political campaigns. Tribal campaign donations increased nearly sevenfold to $11.4 million in the 2008 election cycle from $1.7 million in 2000.