[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/29/art.obama2.jpg]Kalyn Free
Superdelegate supporting Sen. Obama
President of The Indigenous Democratic Network
On Tuesday, tribal voters in South Dakota and Montana have an historic opportunity to help secure the presidential nomination for Senator Barack Obama. This is an unprecedented election year for Indian Country. Senator Obama, as well as Senator Hillary Clinton, has been to Indian Country during this primary. I commend them both for putting tribal issues on their national platforms.
Indian voters have been more and more visible on the national landscape in the last two election cycles. 2008 will prove even more important as the "New West" will be a pivotal battleground for determining the presidency and the make-up of congress. In the "New West" tribal communities have concentrated populations and the ability to swing an election in favor of either party. In 2006, Senator Jon Tester of Montana beat incumbent Conrad Burns due to increased turn out on Indian reservations in Montana and in 2002, the Indian vote helped secure a victory for Senator Tim Johnson in South Dakota, who won by 524 votes.
Tribal voters also helped Brian Schweitzer win his bid for the Montana Governor's office. Montana has 10 American Indian voices in the state legislature – 3 Senators and 7 House members.
American Indians make up South Dakota's largest minority group, 8.5 percent of the population, and make up more than 6 percent of the Montana population.
In South Dakota, there are 3 tribal members in the state government – 2 Representatives and a Senator.
As a voting block, we are gaining more influence and in turn candidates are paying attention.
Indian people want the same things that everyone wants: better opportunities for their children, better schools, health care, a living wage, safe jobs and freedom from oppression and discrimination.
However, tribal voters also care about protecting their tribal sovereignty and the unique government-to-government relationship tribes have with the federal government.
Editor's note: Kalyn Free is an At-Large member of the DNC and superdelegate who recently endorsed Senator Obama for President. She is also president of INDN’s List, the only grassroots political organization devoted to recruiting and electing Native American candidates.
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