American Indian involvement in politics

American Indians have long been unable to play a role in the enactment of laws that affected them and the development of federal and state Indian policies. Lack of resources, including money, voting rights, limited education and time to deal with such issues, and the inability to hire lobbyists all played a role in this issue.

Tribal governments and Indian advocacy groups, however, are in far better positions to protect their treaty and property rights, and their sovereign rights of self-determination.

In recent years, tribal communities have exercised the power of the ballot box to provide the decisive votes in electing federal and state officials. For example, Washington U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell in 2000, South Dakota U.S. Senator Tim Johnson in 2006, and Alaska and New Mexico governors owed their elections to tribal voting blocs. With over 4 million American Indian citizens in the U.S. and significant voting blocs in various jurisdictions, Indians will continue to be able to influence many elections.

Tribal governments and individual Indians are also amassing more money to use to influence elections too. Several tribes donated millions of dollars to the Clinton campaign in 1996, and to John Kerry and Barack Obama.

And, at least one organization is assisting American Indians to run for state and federal offices across the country.

A recent example of Indian donations influencing political issues is also demonstrated in this article from the Buffalo NY newspaper.

According to the paper, County Legislator Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo is “pushing a statement to protect Seneca Nation of Indian businesses from having to charge state sales taxes.”

“Grateful Seneca Nation business people are writing checks to Kennedy’s Senate campaign fund. Maxine Jimerson, a sister of Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr., gave $2,500. So did Seneca Sandra Hill. Seneca businessman and Councilor J. C. Seneca gave $15,500.

Seneca tobacco merchant Scott Maybee donated $6,500. Lawyer Margaret A. Murphy, who specializes in constitutional and Indian law and has represented Maybee, donated $6,000. But Kennedy calls Murphy a longtime friend, and she has given to his County Legislature campaigns in smaller amounts — $660 over the years.

Kennedy says he has attracted the contributions not because of his sponsorship of the statement but because, “I have always been a proponent of the sovereignty of the Native American nations and the honoring of treaties between Native American nations and the United States government.”

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